Between 2001 and 2018, 8,009 child marriages were recorded in the Dominican Republic. Of these, 7,480 involved girls between the ages of 14 and 17.
According to the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI), a majority of these marriages are with men between the ages of 20 and 29.
Furthermore, 1,608 girls between the ages of 14 and 17 were married to men aged 30 or older, in some cases as old as 94.
Not only does this phenomenon undoubtedly disrupt childhood and its normal course of development, but it also creates a hotbed for partner violence and femicide, both very common occurrences that leave a trail of death and sorrow among many Dominican families.
Specialists believe that substantial changes to the relevant laws, a sustainable programme of civic education and a system of consequences for parents who consent to child marriage are all needed to put an end to this abuse
Most importantly, legal changes must be made to protect this sector of the population and no longer accept this heinous act.
Several days ago, the Permanent Commission of the Justice of the Chamber of Deputies discussed and adopted a report favouring a bill to modify the articles of the Civil Code governing marriage.
Currently, article 144 of the code establishes the qualities and conditions necessary for marriage, specifically that it is illegal for men younger than 18 and for women younger than 15 to marry.
The proposed bill would raise the legal age of marriage to 18, and sets forth the following points in support of its proposal: raising the marriage age is essential to ensure that girls and adolescents complete their education and reduce incidences of teen pregnancy, among other problems.
Another of the bill’s points identifies a correlation between the poverty rate and child marriage, evidenced by the fact that 59 percent of girls experiencing the highest national poverty rates marry before the age of 18, and 23 percent before the age of 15.
To that end, the World Bank and Unicef established that an end to underage marriage could have led to a reduction in overall poverty in the Dominican Republic.
Moreover, the Fundación Institucionalidad y Justicia [Institutionality and Justice Foundation] joined the call for legislative change, from the standpoint that child marriage poses a threat to human development among youth and has serious social implications. Likewise, according to Conani, the Civil Code contains obsolete provisions, none of which reflect current reality and the continual human rights gains achieved for boys, girls and adolescents.
Remarkably, however, despite its repudiation by various sectors of society, child marriage and cohabitation with express parental consent are common practices. These problems must be addressed with priority.
The Dominican commitment
The eradication of this calamity represents a national commitment to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, that of gender equality.
In turn, an end to this damaging practice would advance the achievement of other, interrelated objectives, such as the elimination of poverty, improvements in health and wellbeing, quality education, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequality, peace, justice and strong institutions.
The Dominican Republic has made other international commitments to ban this harmful and abominable practice, as established in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the nation in 1991.
The executive branch has also joined in the commitment, recently expressing its support for the campaign to end child marriage. President Luis Abinader posted on social media, “We reaffirm our government’s position on child marriage. It is also the official position of the @PRM_Oficial.”
This will all lead to the eradication of the scourge, at least on a legal level. That in itself is not sufficient, however. It is vital to provide education to society and families on the need to eliminate the root causes of this wrongdoing in order to protect young people and help them overcome the aftermath. (PL)