SITUATION OF MINORS IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
A. Legal framework for the protection of minors
a. Domestic provisions
409. The domestic law of the Dominican Republic includes several provisions that reflect the purpose of protecting minors, recognizing their right to live with their families and in an environment that facilitates their full development.
410. The Constitution of the Dominican Republic establishes the duty of the state to safeguard the family and the minor as a fundamental part of the family, incorporating protection for mothers and children in Article 8(15).233
411. On January 26, 1997, the Code of the Minor was promulgated for the purpose of adequately implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child,234 compiling and systematizing the main laws on minors in the Dominican Republic.
412. The Code of the Minor, basically made up of Law 14-94, which develops the "Code for the Protection of Children and Adolescents," was promulgated in 1994, and recently amended by Law 24-97, which in turn amends the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. Finally, this compilation also includes Decree 59-95, which refers to the "Regulation for the Application of the Code of the Minor."
413. The Code of the Minor seeks to make effective the rights of the child, establishing the duty of the state and society to guarantee their implementation. According to the Code, a minor is considered a child from birth to 12 years of age, and an adolescent from 13 to 17 years of age, with majority attained on the 18th birthday.
414. The Code of the Minor seeks to alleviate the serious problems affecting children in the Dominican Republic. Most such problems are the result of precarious living conditions. One of the main problems is juvenile delinquency, which is why the Code includes the creation of juvenile courts. In addition, the Code defines infractions (el acto infraccional) and provides that minors who commit infractions cannot be criminally accused; indicates the treatment to be accorded minors who commit infractions, and the procedure and institution for their protection; and creates a special police for minors and an office of the Ombudsman for Minors.
415. In the domestic law provisions on minors in the Dominican Republic, consideration should also be given to Law No. 24-97, "Against Family Violence," which, as noted above,235 has as its main purpose to protect the family and minors as an integral part of the family. In this way, minors are among the special interests to be protected from domestic and family violence.
b. International provisions
416. In 1989 the Dominican Republic ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of the United Nations. In addition, in preparing the Code for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, it took into account the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice ("The Beijing Rules"),236 and the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty,237 which are resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985 and 1990, respectively.
B. Socioeconomic situation of minors
417. According to studies done on the conditions of minors in the Dominican Republic, it was determined that 60% of Dominican families lived in poverty.238 In addition, in the rural areas, 63.9% of the families could not cover their basic needs.239 According to World Bank’s World Development Report for 1997, 19.9% of the Dominican population survives on less than one dollar a day, as they persist in a situation of extreme poverty.240 As a result of this situation, families living in such conditions are marginalized, placing their health and physical integrity at risk, and making them inclined to engage in delinquent acts.
418. Since the early 1980s, the Dominican Republic has suffered a serious economic crisis, which has led to an increase in poverty and has been especially hard hitting on the youth and children. According to the 1992 Survey on Income and Expenditures, poverty among children under 12 is about one-third greater than in the adult population.241
419. The lack of resources for meeting the family's basic needs makes it extremely difficult for minors to have access to health, education, and housing. This situation of poverty has made it necessary for children to join the labor market, to contribute to the sustenance of the family, with the consequent lack of schooling, and often the lack of a home as well.
420. Education in the Dominican Republic still faces grave problems, despite the efforts of the Dominican state. This is observed in the indices of education, illiteracy rates, and attendance of minors in school.
421. According to the World Bank, 13% of children ages 7 to 14 do not attend class because they work outside the home or stay home doing house chores. Approximately 11% work and go to school at the same time, which means that for one-fourth of the population of minors it is impossible to continue the education they need to become more skilled.242
422. Illiteracy among minors in the Dominican Republic is relatively high. According to UNICEF, 15.6% of minors ages 10 to 17 years do not know how to read or write, and only 25 of every 100 adolescents ages 15 to 17 have been to secondary school.243 Dropping out of school to join the work force, dropping the books and taking up work, is probably the most serious problem children face.
D. Child labor
423. The Labor Code of the Dominican Republic, at Title II, prohibits children under 14 years from working, and establishes, at Articles 244 to 254, the conditions in which work must be performed. In addition, at Chapter V, Section II, Articles 100 to 102 of the Code of the Minor, we find provisions referring to the right to professional development and protection at work.
424. Despite the foregoing provisions, early insertion of minors in the work force has resulted in the frequent abandonment of their education, as they limited themselves to performing jobs that in most cases are poorly remunerated, but whose payment represents daily sustenance for them and their families.
E. Child prostitution
425. In the Dominican Republic, there is a considerable population of minors for whom the streets have become home, who have faced a hostile world from an early age. Most "street children" beg as a means of subsistence; one-third turn to robbery and other means to get by, such as selling drugs; and approximately one-fifth engage in prostitution.244
426. One of the serious problems in the Dominican Republic is the participation of minors in prostitution. According to UNICEF in a study of child prostitution in the Dominican Republic in 1994, child prostitution is today a threat to the human development of the country. In that activity minors are exposed to all types of abusive treatment and endanger their physical and mental health.
427. UNICEF notes that a total of 25,455 minors are employed as prostitutes, and that of that total, 14,508 (57%) practice prostitution in the areas in which they had gone to school. The study also indicates that two of every three minors who work as prostitutes are females, and one in three is male.245
428. It is clear that minors who work as prostitutes run serious risks, first because of the danger that exists in the places in which they engage in this activity, and second because of the practical lack of hygiene to prevent the spread of disease or of any birth control. According to UNICEF data, ignorance about venereal diseases among the child population engaged in prostitution in the Dominican Republic is alarming and endangers their lives.
429. Prostitution in the Dominican Republic is not prohibited by law; nonetheless, the Criminal Code establishes in its Article 334 a punishment for persons who favor or facilitate the license or corruption of persons under 18 years of either sex.246 Nonetheless, there is not sufficient oversight by the state with respect to this issue, as shown by the lack of punishment.
F. Violence against minors
430. Minors constitute a sector of society often defenseless in the face of the injustices committed against them, since, unfortunately, in most cases their assailants are their own family members, and the acts are shrouded in silence.
431. In the Dominican Republic, physical punishment has traditionally been used by parents and guardians as a correctional method. Indeed physical abuse, at 48.2%, is the most common correctional method used.247
432. Rape is an unacceptable form of violence against children. According to information submitted to the Commission, most cases of sexual abuse and rape are of female minors, and their assailants are normally individuals who have some tie or relationship with the victims. This sexual violence is reflected in the figures for the first four months of 1997, during which there were 94 rapes, 70% of which were of minors.248
G. Situation of minors deprived of their liberty
433. Pursuant to Article 266 of the Code of the Minor, the juvenile courts have jurisdiction over conduct considered by the civil code as offenses or misdemeanors attributed to persons under 18 years of age. In accordance with Article 268, the juvenile judge has the power to order the confinement of a child or adolescent in special establishments for rehabilitation, for a period not to exceed two years.
434. The Code of the Minor provides that the institutions for re-education should give preference to educating the personality of minors and giving them professional training. Nonetheless, and despite these provisions,249 in practice minors are treated as common criminals.
435. During its on-site visit, the Commission was informed of the treatment accorded minors deprived of their liberty in the Dominican Republic. It is common for minors who are offenders to be kept in centers of detention together with common criminals.
436. According to information obtained by the Commission, minors are sent to regular prisons such as La Victoria, where they are confined in the sections known as Alaska, El Patio, El Hospital, and Las Malvinas. The cells are shared with adult prisoners, who instill fear in the minors and make them victims of sexual assaults and rough beatings, with the consequent physical and mental disorders.250
437. Minors confined in the regular prisons are characterized as being in preventive detention, and, initially, the maximum term of confinement is for two years, but it turns out that they remain confined for much longer; some reach majority in prison, due to the delays in the juvenile courts.251
438. Various types of non-governmental organizations, along with the Ombudsman for Minors, have taken several initiatives in the courts and centers of detention for the minors to be transferred to the centers for special protection spelled out in the law. Nonetheless, the results sought have yet to be attained.252
439. It should be noted that violations of the human rights of minors also occur at the centers for special protection, which, as indicated above, have been created for the purpose of re-educating them and offering them professional training. According to data provided by several organizations that work to protect human rights, these centers use inhumane correctional methods. One example is the case of a 16-year-old youth who was brutally beaten at the protection center known as the Casa Albergue, on the grounds that he had committed an act showing lack of discipline. Even though this conduct is a violation of Law 24-97, which punishes the abuse and mistreatment of minors, the complaints lodged did not meet with any response by the appropriate authorities.253
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
440. The Commission expresses its profound concern over the situation of minors in the Dominican Republic, in particular over the exploitation to which they are victim, including child labor and the prostitution of minors. The number of street children continues to climb, while attendance in the classroom is on the decline.
441. The Commission celebrates the adoption of the Code of the Minor, which seeks to adopt appropriate legislation on minors in the Dominican Republic and establishes the creation of special juvenile courts. Nonetheless, despite the positive measures contained in this legal instrument, the Commission considers that its provisions are not fully applied in practice.
442. The Commission recommends to the Dominican state that it adopt programs to ensure strict surveillance of the situation of minors, especially those who have been victims of domestic violence.
443. The Commission urges the Government of the Dominican Republic to adopt the necessary measures to protect minors so that they not fall victim to the violence associated with prostitution and the illegal trafficking in minors.
444. In addition, the Commission recommends greater oversight and supervision of the detention centers. Such measures will make it possible, first, to ensure that minors not be confined with adults, and are not victims of abusive treatment in general, and sexual abuse in particular; and second, so that minors in the centers of detention not fall victim to the severe correctional measures that represent an attack on their physical integrity and their dignity.
233 Constitution of the Dominican Republic, Article 8(15): "In order to bolster its moral, religious, and cultural stability, the family will receive the broadest possible protection from the State: (a) Maternity, whatever the condition or status of the woman, shall enjoy the protection of the government authorities and has the right to official assistance where there is such need.... (d) Married women shall have full civil capacity. The law shall establish the necessary means for protecting the property rights of women no matter under whatever regime they are married."
234 Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by the General Assembly in its Resolution 44/25 of November 20, 1989.
235 See supra, pp. 19 and 100.
236 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice. Adopted by General Assembly resolution 40/33 of November 29, 1985.
237 United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, approved by General Assembly resolution 45/113 of December 14, 1990.
238 "Condiciones de los Menores en la República Dominicana," monograph sponsored by the Instituto de Estudio de Población y Desarrollo and UNICEF, Santo Domingo, 1994, p. 6.
240 World Development Report 1997, The State in a Changing World. World Bank, 1997.
243 Condiciones de los Menores en la República Dominicana, op. cit., pp. 17 and 19.
244 La Neo-Prostitución Infantil en República Dominicana, by Emmanuel Silvestre, Jaime Rijo, and Huberto Bogaert, report by ONAPLAN and UNICEF, May 1994. "Menores en Circunstancias Especialmente Difíciles en la República Dominicana," UNICEF report, 1991.
245 La Neoprostitución Infantil en República Dominicana. Report by UNICEF, 1994, pp. 22 and 23.
246 Article 334 of the Criminal Code of the Dominican Republic provides:
One who is accused of assailing good morals, by habitually favoring or facilitating the license or corruption of youths of either sex who have yet to turn 18 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment of 3 months to 1 year, and a fine of RD$ 10.00 to RD$ 100.00. If the prostitution or corruption has been incited, favored, or provided by the parents, guardians, or other persons in charge of the oversight and care of the victim, the punishment shall be 6 months to 2 years imprisonment and a fine of RD$ 20.00 to RD$ 200.00.
247 "Menores en circunstancias especialmente difíciles en la República Dominicana," UNICEF/PROFAMILIA/IEPD, 1989, p. 96.
248 Centro de Investigación para la Acción Femenina (CIPAF).
249 Articles 224 to 229 of the Code of the Minor.
250 Information submitted during the on-site visit of the IACHR, in June 1997, by the Fundación Dominicana para la Promoción y Acción Social (PROPAS), Movimiento de Mujeres en Acción Democrática "ANACAONA," and Colectivo de Abogados Independientes.
252 Movimiento de Mujeres en Acción Democrática "ANACAONA" noted that:
The Human Rights Committee asked the judicial authorities to release 65 minors who were being confined together with adult prisoners at the Najayo prison; most of them were 11 to 13 years of age. They also denounced the rape of a 15-year-old male by adult prisoners. One of the members of the Committee stated: "Those children are confined with psychopaths and persons with sexual illnesses, and so they should be urgently removed." It was affirmed that the authorities had not taken any measure in this respect. El Nacional, December 31, 1996.
253 Information submitted during the IACHR's on-site visit in June 1997, by the Fundación Dominicana para la Promoción y Acción Social, Movimiento de Mujeres en Acción Democrática "ANACONA", and the Colectivo de Abogados Independientes.