Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader signed a bill on Wednesday, 6 January, that bans child marriage by prohibiting marriage for individuals under the age of 18.
According to Reuters, activists, who had campaigned for the ban after noting legal loopholes that allowed children to be forced into marriage, applauded the decision.
According to official data, 36 per cent of Dominican girls and adolescents marry or unite before the age of 18, which is the highest rate in Latin America and the Caribbean.
While victims of child marriage include both girls and boys, many advocates have noticed that girls are primarily affected and can face situations in which an abusive adult turns to marriage to avoid consequences for crimes against minors.
Sonia Hernandez, an associate director of the rights group International Justice Mission (IJM), was one of the people who had urged the president to act to change the laws.
“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, she said.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, activists feared that economic hardships could drive some parents to marry their daughters off at young ages. Rosa Elcarte, UNICEF’s representative in the Dominican Republic, pointed out that the way in which the country looks at cultural norms and societal roles must change to continue protecting women and girls.
“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, ending early unions will require years of work to change cultural norms, Elcarte said.
The UN estimates that 12 million girls under the age of eighteen are married worldwide, resulting in health risks, loss of education, and intergenerational poverty. Elcarte believes that girls should be given educational support and opportunities, breaking the cycles that often force them into marriage.