New partnership with federals hopes to save children

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By Allison Ridgway

A Ryerson professor’s project to support the implementation of youth protection services in the Dominican Republic has received $1.5 million in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

“Ryerson students can be very proud of this initiative,” said Lois Brown, MP and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation, at a press conference in the Ryerson Image Centre on March 12. “This project will improve the safety and quality of life for at least 10,000 of the boys and girls in the Dominican Republic who live in the poorest and most vulnerable communities in that country.” H

enry Parada, graduate director and professor of social work at Ryerson University, has seen such poverty first-hand on his numerous trips to the country. He has researched child abuse and exploitation in the country since 1999. This summer, he and at least 12 other professors from universities across Canada will return to the Dominican to train community workers, teachers and youth to protect the country’s most vulnerable.

It has been 10 years since the Dominican Republic adopted law 130-03 (the Code for the System of Protection of the Basic Rights of Children and Adolescents), and according to the U.S. State Department’s online profile, the country continues to struggle with issues such as child labour and prostitution.

Through CIDA’s Partners for Development program, Parada plans to collaborate with local organizations to improve public understanding of child youth protection.

“It’s always been at the back of my mind – how to protect these kids,” says Parada, who was born in South America and has worked on similar projects in many other countries in this region. “Child protection laws have just recently been added into their legislature, and it’s been so eye-opening to see just how difficult life for these kids has been without this protection.”

More than one in four children in the country live in poverty, according to the World Bank, and this leaves them vulnerable to sexual and labour exploitation.

“We want to develop municipal councils of youth who will help influence the public policy process,” said Purnima George, an associate professor at Ryerson’s school of social work who is traveling to the Dominican this summer with Parada.

“Youth in the Dominican Republic are already very politically active, and we want to give them the opportunity to make real political change.” The project will also partner with Santo Domingo University in the Dominican to create a new social work degree focused on the rights of children.

Ryerson students may soon be able to take part. Susan Silver, an associate professor of social work at Ryerson, says students will be able to travel to the Dominican to help with these projects once Parada and his colleagues have finished their work this summer. Students may be able to help with youth training workshops in the community and with further research.

“For now we need to learn from the experiences of the youth in this country,” said Silver. “Our project is not just about knowledge transfer, it’s about knowledge exchange. It’s about empowerment.”

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