SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic are increasingly being barred from attending school following a court ruling that could lead to tens of thousands of people being stripped of their citizenship, according to a report released Friday.
Dozens of families with school-age children say they are being turned away or harassed due to arbitrary interpretations of the court ruling and Dominican laws, according to researchers at the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center who compiled the report.
As a result, some children drop out of school or lose scholarships while others are forced into underage labor, said Kimberly Fetsick, one of the report's authors.
"Children are being harmed, and their human rights are being violated," she said. "Action must be taken to protect these children."
The report analyzed one of the impacts of a September 2013 court ruling that could let the government retroactively strip citizenship mostly from people of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic. Human rights groups have said roughly 200,000 people could be affected, while the government put the number at 13,000 people.
Those of Haitian ancestry are increasingly being denied basic identification documents or have had those documents seized by government officials despite having been born in the Dominican Republic, leading to limited access to education, the report found. The Dominican constitution grants everyone a right to education, including children without documentation, but many school officials are requiring proof of Dominican citizenship upon enrollment or prior to national exams.
"Much of a child's fate may depend on the kindness of individual teachers and school administrators who are willing to overlook missing documents or actively help children obtain them," the report stated.
An estimated 48,000 children who lack identification documents are enrolled in primary school, according to 2011-2012 statistics from the Ministry of Education. Similar statistics for middle school, high school and college were not immediately available.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education could not be immediately reached for comment.
Fetsick and other researchers made several recommendations, including the creation of an independent panel that would allow people to file complaints and appeal decisions in citizenship-related matters.
The court ruling has raised tensions between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. Both governments began meeting privately this year to talk about the ruling and other differences, with representatives from the United Nations, Caribbean Community, European Union and Venezuela serving as observers.
The U.N. Refugee Agency said in a statement this week that it hopes the Dominican government finds a solution to the problem soon.
"The consequences of statelessness are dramatically real for individuals affected by the ruling. They are denied access to identification cards, employment and other basic services. They cannot travel, get married legally or register the birth of a child," said Shelly Pitterman, the agency's regional representative in Washington, D.C. "These individuals are in desperate need of a solution."