Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, spousal rape, domestic violence, incest, and sexual aggression. Sentences for rape range from 10 to 15 years in prison and a modest fine. The Attorney General’s Office oversees the Violence Prevention and Attention Unit, which had 19 offices in the country’s 32 provinces. The Attorney General’s Office instructed its officers not to settle cases of violence against women and to continue judicial processes even when victims withdrew charges. District attorneys provided assistance and protection to victims of violence by referring them to appropriate institutions for legal, medical, and psychological counseling.
The Ministry of Women promoted equality and the prevention of violence against women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community by implementing education and awareness programs, as well as training other ministries and offices. During the year the ministry revamped or opened a total of 15 shelters for female and child victims of violence, including one dedicated for trafficking victims. The ministry also collaborated with police and the Attorney General’s Office to put in place a gender and domestic violence response unit, including training all personnel on proper response to emergency calls and visits. NGO representatives generally welcomed these efforts but insisted more was needed.
In March a group of journalists released a report showing that in 2019, one in four femicides was not registered as such by the Attorney General’s Office. According to the report, the Attorney General’s Office only counted intimate femicides – those committed by a partner or former partner – among official cases. In 2019 the Attorney General’s Office officially registered 77 femicides, while the journalists’ report identified 103 cases that same year.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Acid attacks, predominantly against women, with a mix of sulfuric, hydrochloric, and muriatic acid, a concoction commonly referred to as devil’s acid, constituted a problem for authorities. The director of the burn unit of one of the largest trauma centers in the country said that 7 percent of annual admissions to the unit were patients suffering from devil’s acid burns. The government typically prosecuted the organizer of the attack (usually a former partner), not the persons hired to commit the act itself. Persons convicted for this crime received sentences of up to 20 years in prison but often spent only two years in prison, according to civil society leaders. In September Attorney General Miriam German instructed public prosecutors to treat attacks with devil’s acid as “acts of torture or cruelty.”
Sexual Harassment: The law defines sexual harassment by an authority figure as a misdemeanor; conviction carries a sentence of one year in prison and a large fine. Union leaders reported the law was not enforced and that sexual harassment remained a problem.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of the government authorities.
Low income was a barrier to accessing information on reproductive health care. Family-planning NGOs provided contraceptives without charge. Many low-income women, however, used them inconsistently due to lack of information, irregular availability, societal influences, and cultural male dominance.
The government provided some access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence through the Ministry of Women, but most of the burden for providing these services fell on women’s rights NGOs. Emergency contraception was available.
According to Human Rights Watch, pregnant students and young mothers often found it difficult or impossible to continue their education. A women’s rights NGO said there were many reasons why young women and girls dropped out of school after pregnancy, including the impact of pregnancy on their health and deficiencies in the educational system that prevented many women and girls from returning. Many were expelled from school, although it is illegal to do so, or were moved to night classes under the pretext that they were a “bad example” to other students. The NGO also noted that once young women and girls became pregnant, their families and communities considered them emancipated, regardless of their age. The young mothers were expected to stay home to take care of the baby and carry out other household chores.
Discrimination: Although the law provides women and men the same legal rights, women did not enjoy social and economic status or opportunity equal to that of men. Civil society organizations explained that women faced obstacles regarding economic equality and independence. In addition no law requires equal pay for equal work.
The law prohibits discrimination based on skin color and nationality. There was evidence of racial prejudice and discrimination against persons of dark complexion, Haitians, or those perceived to be Haitian. Civil society and international organizations reported that officials denied health care and documentation services to persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants (see also sections 1.d., 2.d., and 2.g.).
Afro-Dominicans and citizens of Haitian descent experienced discrimination when accessing a variety of government services. Hospitals sometimes wrongfully gave pink birth certificates (indicating foreigner status) to children of parents assumed to be Haitian migrants based on the color of their skin, accent, or name. Police detained citizens of Haitian descent for deportation or alleged crimes based on their skin color, their accent, their place of residence, or their name. At some government agencies, as a way to keep them from accessing their documents, citizens of Haitian descent were routinely prevented from parking their vehicles or using the restroom. In November the country began deporting pregnant Haitians and Haitian persons who recently gave birth as part of newly instituted migratory policies to curb the prevalence of undocumented immigrants.
Vice Minister for Migration Management and Naturalization Juan Manuel Rosario repeatedly questioned in media the validity of the decree attempting to regularize citizens of Haitian descent. There were reports that under Vice Minister Rosario’s leadership, the ministry instituted a series of documentation requirements and administrative hurdles that made it virtually impossible for persons of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants to obtain their rightful documents. During the summer the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified that the government continued to defend the legality of the naturalization decree issued by then president Medina and that Rosario’s comments did not reflect a change in the government’s position. In addition, on October 10, Director General for Migration Enrique Garcia stated that citizens “cannot allow them [Haitians] to take away our country” and noted that “the Haitian solution is not in the Dominican Republic.” On a December 1 radio interview, Garcia stated that the deportation of pregnant Haitians was not illegal, since the law only prohibits their “detention.” He added that he could even look for them “under the beds…because the law allows [him] to.”
Birth Registration: Citizenship comes with birth in the country, except to children born to diplomats, to those who are “in transit,” or to parents who are illegally in the country (see also section 2.g.). A child born abroad to a Dominican mother or father may also acquire citizenship. Children not registered at birth remain undocumented until the parents file a late declaration of birth.
Child Abuse: Abuse of children younger than age 18, including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, was a serious problem. The law contains provisions concerning child abuse, including physical and emotional mistreatment, sexual exploitation, and child labor. The law provides for sentences of two to five years’ incarceration and a large fine for persons convicted of physical and psychological abuse of a minor. Despite this legal framework for combatting child abuse, local NGOs reported that few cases were reported to authorities and fewer still were prosecuted.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: In late December 2020, Congress passed a bill prohibiting marriage of persons younger than 18. The bill took effect in January. Prior to passage of the law, 22 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 had been pregnant, an issue directly related to early marriage. Girls often married much older men. Child marriage occurred more frequently among girls who were uneducated, poor, and living in rural areas. More than one-half of the women in the country’s poorest quintile were married by age 17.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law defines statutory rape as sexual relations with anyone younger than 18. Penalties for conviction of statutory rape are 10 to 20 years in prison and a significant fine.
Children were exploited for commercial sex, particularly in tourist locations and major urban areas. Child pornography was also rampant and growing due to the ease of online exploitation. The government conducted programs to combat the sexual exploitation of minors.
Displaced Children: Large populations of children, primarily Haitians or persons of Haitian descent, lived on the streets and were vulnerable to trafficking.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community comprised approximately 350 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with disabilities were unable to access education, health services, public buildings, or transportation on an equal basis with others. The law provides for access to the labor market, recreational and cultural activities, and physical access to all new public and private buildings, but these laws were not enforced effectively. The law specifies that each ministry should collaborate with the National Disability Council to implement these provisions. Very few public buildings were fully accessible.
The Dominican Association for Rehabilitation received support from the Ministry of Public Health and the Office of the Presidency to provide rehabilitation assistance to persons with physical and learning disabilities and to operate specialized schools for children with physical and mental disabilities. Lack of accessible public transportation was a major impediment.
The law states the government should provide access to the labor market and to cultural, recreational, and religious activities for persons with disabilities, but the law was not consistently enforced. There were three government centers for the care of children with disabilities, one each in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, and San Juan de la Maguana. These centers served a small percentage of the population with disabilities, offering their services to children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder. They had lengthy waiting lists for children seeking care. The most recent information, from a 2016 Ministry of Education report, found that 80 percent of registered students with disabilities attended some form of school.
Although the law prohibits the use of HIV testing to screen employees, the government, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Labor Organization reported that workers in various industries faced obligatory HIV testing. Workers were sometimes tested without their knowledge or consent. Many job applicants found to have HIV were not hired, and some of those already employed were either fired from their jobs or denied adequate health care.
The constitution protects the principles of nondiscrimination and equality before the law, but it does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories. It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “social or personal condition” and mandates that the state “prevent and combat discrimination, marginalization, vulnerability, and exclusion.” The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity only for policies related to youth and youth development.
Discrimination limited the ability of LGBTQI+ persons to access education, employment, health care, and other services. NGO representatives reported widespread discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons, particularly transgender individuals and lesbians, in health care, housing, education, justice, and employment. LGBTQI+ individuals also faced rampant intimidation and harassment.
There were reports of citizens attacking and sometimes killing suspected criminals in vigilante retaliations for theft, robbery, or burglary. Authorities usually investigated these incidents and prosecuted those involved.