According to UNICEF, the country has one of Latin America's highest rates of child marriage.

Por Alma Sacasa
Enero 08, 2021

This week, the Dominican Republic announced a ban on child marriage, as UNICEF revealed the country has one of Latin America's highest rates of child marriage and early unions. "Child marriage and early unions are seen as normal in society," Rosa Elcarte, UNICEF's representative in the Dominican Republic, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It is driven by machismo that sees the role of a women to be just a mother and wife. Ending early unions will require years of work to change cultural norms."

On Wednesday, Sonia Hernandez of the rights group International Justice Mission, which campaigned for the country's ban on child marriage, welcomed President Luis Abinader's decision to sign the bill 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 IJM.

Credit: Getty Images

UNICEF's Elcarte said that girls need to be supported to stay in school and find work to break the cycle of poverty that fuels child marriage. "Girls need to have alternative offers that becoming a mother is not their only plan in life," she explained. "They have to be given job opportunities."

The U.N. says an estimated 12 million girls globally are married every year before the age of 18, which adds to health, education, and abuse risks and also increases the likelihood of intergenerational poverty. A 2017 report by UNICEF and the World Bank showed that banning child marriage and early unions would decrease the the Dominican Republic's poverty rate by 10 percent.

"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 the girls' rights group Plan International.