The Right to Education
© © UNICEF RD/2007
Children’s right to education denied
By: Tahira Vargas
This week a new school year started – in theory anyway. According to reports it didn’t start in all schools.
This is a good time to ask: can all children in this country exercise their right to go to school?
A large percentage of children and adolescents do not attend school because their right to enter the education system has been denied. This happens in the case of children who do not have documents. This includes children who were born in the country to undocumented Dominican parents and children of Haitian parents.
We have met a large percentage of children and young people all over the country who do not go to school because they “don’t have papers”. Recently we held interviews with children who were born in the country and live in communities in Valverde Mao, Montecristi, Elías Piña and San Juan. Their parents have tried to register them for school in their local areas several times but this has always been denied because they don’t have birth certificates, because their parents are Haitian. We’ve found children and young people of several ages (10-16 years old) in this situation.
The right to education is an inalienable right for every child, adolescent and young person, according to the declaration of the universal rights of the child and adolescents, in international conventions to which the Dominican Republic is a signatory and in our own Constitution. The principle is that no country should violate this right of their child, adolescent and youth population, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sex or social class. The law on education establishes that every child and adolescent must be registered at a school, whether or not they have documents. Even so, this law has been broken and it continues to be violated at schools all round the country on a daily basis.
By being excluded from the educational system this population is denied the opportunity for human development. What can these thousands of children, adolescents and young people do if there were born in our country as children of “illegal” parents (Dominican as well as Haitian)?
The studies we have conducted on juvenile delinquency have shown us that young people who engage in criminal activities are not in the educational system. This exclusion (which is wrongly known as desertion) is the result of many factors such as: a rigid system that expels young people for wearing earrings, having tattoos, for fighting, repeating a grade, adolescent pregnancies and socio-economic conditions.
The educational system excludes a significant and growing proportion of young people and adolescents who have documents, including many Dominicans of Haitian origin. This could become a serious citizen security problem for the country. By keeping an increasing number of adolescents and young people outside the educational system we are widening the social gaps and adding to the number of young people who engage in criminal activities. Can the country strive to eradicate drug trafficking if young people are being expelled from schools and a state of permissiveness and complicity with drug trafficking continues to exist? Can measures be taken against citizen safety if they leave the adolescent and youth population vulnerable and unprotected?
Education is a fundamental pillar of human development. It is completely paradoxical to aim for reducing and eradicating poverty and inequality (Millennium Development Goals) on the one hand, while on the other hand the social gaps are widening due to the persistent practice of excluding children and young people from the education system. These all combine to lead to an increase in juvenile delinquency and citizen insecurity.