This week, the Dominican Republic officially made child marriage illegal. President Luis Abinador signed legislation prohibiting the marriage of individuals under the age of 18, NBC News reported.
Additionally, in an effort to combat violence and promote gender equality, the law includes the creation of the Cabinet of Women, Adolescents, and Girls under the Ministry of Women. Activists and organizations who’ve been fighting for this bill for a long time applauded the motion.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Dominican Republic has one of Latin America’s highest child marriage and early union rates. Most commonly, a girl living with an older man. UNICEF’s DR representative, Rosa Elcarte, told Thomson Reuters Foundation, “Child marriage and early unions are seen as normal in society. It is driven by machismo that sees the role of a woman to be just a mother and wife.”
Elcarte noted that though it’ll take several years to change that cultural perspective, adding this bill will promote change, even if it is just gradual.
Government studies reflect that more than a third of women from ages 20 to 24 were in informal union before turning 18. The United Nations estimates there are 12 million girls who are married before they turn 18 worldwide. These unions created a risk of abuse, health deterioration and increased the probability of intergenerational poverty. With the pandemic, the rise of poverty could push parents to sell their daughters to marry early.
International Justice Mission, a rights group for women, was one of the organizations that campaigned for this bill. Sonia Hernandez, the associate director, said, “Our girls and adolescents will be protected … and cannot be forced into marriage in their childhood or adolescence, which in the past was often carried out by parents and legally allowed.”
A 2017 study conducted by UNICEF and the World Bank showed banning child marriage, and early unions in the Caribbean country would decrease poverty by 10%.
Breaking the cycle of poverty and child marriage is no easy feat, especially when it is a deeply-rooted cultural trait.
However, there are ways to combat it. Elcarte says it is by making sure girls know they are supported, encouraged to stay in school, and finding work outside of the realm of exploitation.
A long way to go, but two steps forward is better than none.