The neglected future of the boys and girls we say we love

On the Mella road at the corner of San Vicente de Paúl, Santo Domingo Este, a boy comes to clean the windows of vehicles that stop at the traffic light in the hope of getting some coins. Most drivers do not open the window. There is a lot of fear in the environment. And if when lowering the glass they assault us?

At Abraham Lincoln near the corner of Jhon F. Kennedy, Distrito Nacional, another small shoe shiner and a third ask for money or food from those who leave a supermarket with bags. In Tamayo, a municipality in the Southwest, it is well known that there are children who begin to drink alcohol before the age of 14 in full view of the world, and “discipline” with blows is still a common practice in many homes.

Does Dominican society take care of its boys and girls?

Johnny Bidó, Advocacy and External Relations Manager at World Vision Dominican Republicinterviewed in Libertarias, identified four major violations of the human rights of children and adolescents: sexual abuse and pregnancy of girls and adolescents, low-quality education, child labor, and violent upbringing.

Libertarians. What are the main challenges for the protection of children’s rights in the Dominican Republic?

J.B.. We have identified at least four or five scourges that are significantly affecting Dominican children and adolescents. We refer first of all to the early unions. Our country has occupied, for several years, the first place in the entire region (Latin America) in terms of early unions. 36% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 join before the age of 15 and 12% of them were under 15 at the time of union. There is a high proportion of girls who are joining at an early age, which implies a series of additional situations, such as adolescent pregnancy.

In border communities, 36% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 said they worked. 15% had to earn money to contribute to household expenses and 10% because they were in charge of their own expenses, explained Johnny Bidó, giving details of an investigation.

66% of adolescent pregnancies occur in the context of an early union in our country: 97 births out of every thousand are to adolescent women between the ages of 15 and 19. 20% of all pregnant women in the country are adolescents.

The result of these scourges, such as early marriage and adolescent pregnancy, comes, in part, school dropout. The pregnant girl interrupts her life projects, she drops out of school, and she has to dedicate herself to the role of mother and wife full time, she does not give her time to study. In the worst case, her partner becomes her executioner, so gender violence is frequent in the framework of an early union.

Libertarians. Many people might think that these are unions between adolescent boys and girls, but frequently they are adult men with minors…

J.B.In the overwhelming majority of cases, these are adults who are a minimum of five years apart from each other. Many times up to 30 years apart, they are 30 years older than the girls. It is a totally uneven affair and very inconvenient for the girl, because her vision of her life then revolves around a full-time mother-wife dynamic, practically in servitude. Many times they are turned by this executioner into an object to be bought and sold and are sexually exploited.

It is a crime, it must be faced, addressed by the authorities; and the community in general must be aware that it is not acceptable and that most of the rights of girls and adolescents are being violated.

Libertarians. When speaking about access to education, Bidó emphasized the social injustice that is committed against the most impoverished boys and girls who do not have access to quality education.

J.B. We have deficiencies in the system that have affected our children to such an extent that for the last few years we have consistently ranked last in global testing. In our country, according to a recent study that we have launched on the reading skills of third grade students, only 28.57% could clearly read and understand a simple text, that is to say that our childhood is advancing in primary education with a great deficiency reader. We have identified that one of the reasons is the lack of early education, children do not have access to pre-primary and initial education and they enter the system with disadvantages, so by the time they reach third grade, most of them have difficulties reading a simple text. In addition, in the houses there is no reading material for children. Fathers, mothers and caregivers are not involved in the educational process of the children, they simply take them or send them to school and that’s it, they don’t know how the child is doing, what he is doing, what he is not doing.

Another important aspect is what happens in the educational center itself. Many times teachers do not have the skills to perform with excellence, working in a creative, innovative and contextualized way, accompanying the needs of the student population. We have a serious situation regarding the right to an inclusive education.

Libertarians. During the interview we also addressed the street situation in which many boys and girls find themselves. In this sense, Bidó stressed that there are a large number of children who work to support themselves and their families in impoverished areas of the country.

J.B. We have a childhood in a street situation and there is child labor. It is estimated that between 12 and 16 percent of Dominican children perform paid economic tasks that prevent them from carrying out sports, leisure and other activities that should prevail in childhood and adolescence. When these data are focused on the most depressed communities in the country, such as on the border, for example, it rises to 35 or 36%.

There are border communities in which, in an investigation, 36% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 said that they were developing paid economic activities, 15% worked because they had to contribute to household expenses, 10% because he had to take care of his own expenses, 6% because his parents had lost their income due to the pandemic and so on. But they were there, prevented from having access to education, leisure, cultural and sports activities appropriate to their ages.

school dropout
According to Bidó, more than 400,000 boys and girls were left out of the classroom in 2021 due to the pandemic. “Little by little they are returning for the current school year, but the impact is still massive. There is a problem with the right to quality education. We have a serious problem of school dropouts in the Dominican Republic, not only as a result of the pandemic, which increased it,” said the child rights expert.

Libertarians. What type of upbringing prevails in Dominican families?

J.B. 50% of fathers, mothers and caregivers consider that physical punishment is the ideal way to educate their children. They do not have the ability to raise their sons and daughters in any other way, and this is a violation of the dignity of children. No one should understand the result of a beating, they must have skills that allow fathers, mothers and other responsible adults to guide the children under their responsibility without using violent methods.

Situations of violence are exacerbated by up to 63% when the child is five years old or less. What does it mean? The younger the child, the more violent the parenting method used.

As physical punishment and humiliating treatment prevail in the parenting model, girls are often kicked out of the house and pushed into early unions, the girl ends up accepting because she wants to flee from the violence that lives in her home.

In the case of men, they end up on the streets because they flee from violence at home, they are accepted in other groups that they find on the street and they can fall into juvenile delinquency, in the worst case they repeat the same act with their partners. violence they learned at home. These, among others, are results of violent parenting models.

Libertarians. What initiatives are promoted to eradicate these realities and guarantee the rights of children? What actions are urgent to guarantee the rights of children?

J.B. Children have the right to protection, health care, food security, development, to make their way through life one that guarantees their dignity as people and their full development. As an organization focused on children, we have the commitment and responsibility, from civil society, to contribute as an auxiliary arm of the protection system to the design and implementation of actions that guarantee and restore rights in cases in which they have been violated.

To reduce early unions, a public policy has been put in place that seeks to prevent adolescent pregnancy, World Vision contributes to this policy, with training and awareness tasks.

We are working with the Ministry of Education on a campaign called “Reading is growing” to encourage reading in primary school students, involving boys and girls, and with the support of the teaching staff.

And regarding the parenting model, we are promoting the approval of a positive parenting law, the project has been in Congress since 2019.

The neglected future of the boys and girls we say we love