The Dominican Republic bans child marriage

The Dominican Republic just made a major move to advance the rights of young girls. Banning child marriage in one of the countries with a record high of child marriage are goals.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Dominican Republic is one of Latin America’s highest rates of child marriage and early unions — typically where a girl lives with an older man.

Girls’ rights campaigners have been calling for an end to child marriage for decades.

“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,” said Rosa Elcarte, UNICEF’s representative in the Dominican Republic.

“Ending early unions will require years of work to change cultural norms,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding this will involve working with men, children, and their families to promote change.

More than a third of women aged 20 to 24 were married or in an informal union before they were 18, government figures show.

The UN reports an estimated 12 million girls globally are married every year before the age of 18 which adds to health, education, and abuse risks, and leads to intergenerational poverty.

This figure is set to rise as deepening poverty caused by the new coronavirus pandemic as more parents may be pressured to marry off their daughters early, undoing decades of work to end child marriage.

But on Wednesday in a remarkable landmark victory President Luis Abinader’s signed the bill to end child marriage – for under 18s into law.

“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,” said Hernandez, an associate director with International Justice Mission (IJM).

Elcarte a UNICEF staff said: “Girls need to have alternative offers that becoming a mother is not their only plan in life. They have to be given job opportunities”.

A 2017 report by UNICEF and the World Bank showed that banning child marriage and early unions in the Dominican Republic would decrease the country’s poverty rate by 10%.

“The enactment of this law will help to directly increase the opportunities for girls’ human development [and] to diminish the cycle of poverty,” said Virginia Saiz, head of girls’ rights group, Plan International, in the Dominican Republic.

Article by Thomson Reuters Foundation