Lacking proof of Dominican citizenship, many ethnic Haitian children have been denied access to an education. Although Dominican law does not bar undocumented children from the classroom, in practice undocumented children have been routinely prohibited from attending school.136 In one batey, Human Rights Watch representatives spoke to a young woman who was illiterate due to these barriers.137 Unquestionably, the denial of educational opportunities severely limits such people's possibilities for advancement, relegating them to a future of low skill and low status jobs.
Primary schools tend to be more flexible with regard to documentation requirements than secondary schools, but policies vary from district to district.138 Students are often prevented from continuing in school at two crucial junctures. First, they are often barred from registering for the national exam administered at the end of eighth grade, which determines whether a student is eligible for secondary school.139 Second, they are typically denied a diploma at the end of secondary school, which is a prerequisite for applying for entry to a university.140
Yet the Dominican authorities have, over the past year, shown an encouraging willingness to break from past practice. On July 1, 2001, Vice-President and Secretary of Education Milagros Ortiz Bosch announced that schools would no longer require students to show birth certificates. Quoted in the press calling the previous policy racist, Ortiz affirmed that children should not be denied an education because of race or poverty.141
What remains to be seen is how rigorously the secretary of education's announcement will be implemented. At present, with some politicians remaining firmly against opening up the schools to everyone, undocumented children's access to education is still precarious.
Claubian Jean Jacques
The case of Claubian Jean Jacques, a teenage boy whom Human Rights Watch interviewed, illustrates the obstacles that ethnic Haitian children have faced in obtaining an education. Claubian, now age twenty, was born at home in La Lechería, a batey outside of Santo Domingo.142 His parents, who were both born in Haiti, came to the Dominican Republic in 1979 on a temporary contract to cut cane for the local Catarey sugar mill. Because his parents were undocumented, they did not try to obtain Dominican identity papers for Claubian when he was a baby, believing that it would be impossible.
When Claubian was nine years old, his parents brought him to La Lechería's primary school to enroll him in classes. He was asked for identity papers, but was allowed to enroll even without them.
In 1998, when he was finishing eighth grade, Claubian took the national exam that is administered to all eighth graders in the Dominican Republic. Officials demanded his birth certificate, but he told them that his father was trying to obtain it. The previous year, Claubian's father had gone to the official registry in Villa Altagracia to request identity documents for Claubian. The official in charge of the office told his father that he could not register Claubian without proof of his own legal status. Since Claubian's father did not have Dominican identity papers, he left empty-handed. But with the help of MUDHA, a Santo Domingo-based NGO, the family continued to persevere in its efforts to obtain documentation.
Claubian won a national award for his outstanding school performance, being recognized as the best student in his 1998 graduating class. The award brought substantial media attention to his case and to the overall predicament of undocumented children. After his case made national headlines, the then-minister of education, Ligia Amada Melo, personally guaranteed that Claubian would not be expelled for lack of a birth certificate.143 But without documentation, Claubian has been frequently warned, he will not be able to graduate.
MUDHA has petitioned the central registry office to obtain Claubian's birth certificate. The case has been pending for over two years, however. Now in his second to last year of secondary school, Claubian is afraid that his hard work will have been for nothing. He told Human Rights Watch: "I have many plans if God allows me. I'd like to study medicine."144 But Dominican universities will not even accept applications from undocumented students. Without documentation and a secondary school diploma, Claubian's future opportunities will be severely limited.
Education is recognized internationally as a fundamental right for all children, a right that is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).145 These instruments require states to endeavor to make public education available and accessible to all young people.
Moreover, a state that provides education for children cannot do so in a discriminatory manner.146 It may make distinctions among children, but only to the extent that those distinctions are based on reasonable and objective criteria. Consistent with nondiscrimination rules, the Dominican Republic may not arbitrarily deny an education to particular groups of children. Denying education on the basis of race is, for example, unquestionably arbitrary.147
Under the Convention against Discrimination in Education, which the Dominican Republic has ratified, restricting non-citizens' access to education is also recognized as unfairly discriminatory.148 Similarly, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has specified with regard to education that "the principle of non-discrimination extends to all persons of school age residing in the territory of a State party, including non-nationals, and irrespective of their legal status."149 Although, as the Claubian Jean Jacques case exemplifies, many of the ethnic Haitian children affected by the Dominican Republic's restrictive policies are in fact Dominican citizens, restrictions on the right of non-citizen children to education are equally unjustifiable.
Besides violating international standards, it is callous and shortsighted to limit the access of non-citizen children to educational opportunities. Such restrictions, which hinder children for the rest of their lives, unreasonably perpetuate existing inequalities.
136 Human Rights Watch interview, Joseph Cherubin, executive director, Movimiento Sociocultural de Trabajadores Haitianos (MOSCTHA), Santo Domingo, June 3, 2001; Human Rights Watch interview, Sonia Pierre, executive director, Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas (MUDHA), Santo Domingo, June 7, 2001.
137 Human Rights Watch interview, Neli Monteros, Batey Mata Mamón, Dominican Republic, June 2, 2001. Monteros told Human Rights Watch that she was born in the Dominican Republic, but lacked a birth certificate.
138 Human Rights Watch interview, Padre Pedro Ruquoy, June 5, 2001; Human Rights Watch interview, Joseph Cherubin, June 3, 2001.
140 Human Rights Watch interview, MUDHA staff, June 7, 2001.
141 Luis Beiro, "No exigirán actas de nacimiento para inscripción en escuelas," Listín Diario, July 1, 2001; Susannah A. Nesmith, "Haitian Children Will Be Allowed to Go to Dominican Schools," Associate Press, July 3, 2001.
142 Human Rights Watch interview, Claubian Jean Jacques, Batey La Lechería, Dominican Republic, June 13, 2001.
143 "Jacques will not be expelled from school," Dominican Republic One Daily, April 7, 1999.
144 Human Rights Watch interview, Claubian Jean Jacques, Batey La Lechería, Dominican Republic, June 13, 2001.
145 See Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 26; ICESCR, art. 13(1) ("The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education"); CRC, art. 28 (which recognizes "the right of the child to education" as a fundamental human right). The CRC requires states to endeavor, "with a view to achieving [the right to education] progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity," to make free and compulsory primary education available to all. It also calls upon states to make secondary education available and accessible to every child, and to take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and reduce dropout rates. On the right to education under international law, see generally Manfred Nowak, "The Right to Education," in Asbjorn Eide and others (eds.) Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1995), pp. 189-211.
146 See, for example, ICCPR, art. 26.
147 See Convention against Discrimination in Education, art. 1. See generally Human Rights Watch, Second Class: Discrimination against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001), pp. 162-64.
148 See Convention against Discrimination in Education, art. 3. Article 3 provides, in relevant part: "In order to eliminate and prevent discrimination within the meaning of this Convention, the States Parties thereto undertake . . . [t]o give foreign nationals resident within their territory the same access to education as that given to their own nationals."
149 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 13, The Right to
Education (Article 13), U.N. Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (1999), para. 34.