In the midst of a glo
bal pandemic - and reports of an additional 13 million child marriages as a direct consequence of COVID-19 (1) - a good news story and cause for optimism has come out of the Dominican Republic. Within the first week of 2021, President Luis Abinader signed a bill into law banning marriage for those under 18 - a significant achievement for a country with the highest prevalence of child, early and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU) in Latin America and the Caribbean (2).
A reported 36% (2) of women in the Dominican Republic are married or in a union before the age of 18. GirlsNotBrides, a leading NGO campaigning for the abolishment of child marriage, identified four specific reasons for the country’s high numbers. Firstly, traditional gender norms held by the overall population reinforce domestic and maternal roles for girls and women. Secondly, high levels of poverty means that 59% of women in the poorest households are in a union before 18 (compared with 18% of women in richest households). Thirdly, evidence has shown the power dynamics between younger girls and older men stem from, and further reinforce, the traditional gender norms. Lastly, marriage is viewed by some girls and adolescents as a means to escape domestic violence, however those married or in unions early are often at higher risk of abuse at the hands of their husbands (2).
Since 2018, Plan International had been working at the forefront, raising awareness of these issues and pushing for a ban on child marriage. In collaboration with UNICEF, Save the Children and local organisations, Plan International began a campaign with the ambitious goal that “No girl under 18 years old should be married or pregnant in Dominican Republic by 2030” (3). After conducting a series of research on the impact of child marriage, early pregnancy and the concept of masculinity, Plan International ran nationwide campaigns to change attitudes and successfully lobbied members of congress.
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% (4) and ensure that girls, who would otherwise drop out of school after marriage, would continue with their education. Although there is no available data from the Dominican Republic on the impact of child marriage on mental health, research consistently shows that delaying marriage reduces negative mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation (5,6).
While there is still work to do to change societal norms and attitudes towards early unions, banning child marriage sends a strong message and “will help to directly increase the opportunities for girls’ human development” (Virginia Saiz, Plan International).
1. UNFPA (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage. Interim Technical Note. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/impact-covid-19-pandemic-family-planning-and-ending-gender-based-violence-female-genital
2. What's the Child Marriage Rate? How Big of an Issue is Child Marriage? Girls Not Brides, acc. 20/02/21 https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/dominican-republic/
3. How We Got Child Marriage Banned in Dominican Republic, Plan International, acc. 21/02/21 https://plan-international.org/blog/2021/01/how-we-got-child-marriage-banned-dominican-republic
4. The Economic Impacts of Child Marriage, UNICEF and Worldbank. 2017 http://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/es/712331503496265611/pdf/119056-WP-P151842-SPANISH-PUBLIC-WorldBank-CountryBriefDR-PrintReady.pdf
5. Tenkorang, E. Y. 2019. 'Explaining the links between child marriage and intimate partner violence: Evidence from Ghana', Child Abuse Negl, 89: 48-57.
6. Nasrullah, M., R. Zakar, and M. Z. Zakar. 2014. 'Child marriage and its associations with controlling behaviors and spousal violence against adolescent and young women in Pakistan', J Adolesc Health, 55: 804-9.