SANTO DOMINGO – Forced childhood marriage is a regular practice in the Dominican Republic, which – along with Nicaragua – ranks first in the number of married girls and teenagers in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a study presented on Tuesday in Santo Domingo by the Plan International organization.
According to the ENHOGAR 2014 survey cited in the study, 12.5 percent of Dominican women between 20 and 49 married before they turned 15 and 37 percent before age 18.
In addition, one in every five females aged 15-19 is married or living with a man at least 10 years older.
The figures are part of the “Handcuffed Women” study delving into forced childhood marriage in the provinces of Azua, Barahona, Pedernales, Elias Piña and San Juan.
“Although many people may think that a girl marries or lives with someone because she is free to decide to do so, the study found that that freedom is not as it might seem,” said the study’s author, Jeanette Tineo, during the presentation.
Tineo said that forced marriage “is the result of intrafamily violence, the expectation of emancipation or the ... (view) of families as a chance to get out of poverty.”
Forced childhood marriage, defined as a situation in which at least one of the parties is a boy or girl and which is undertaken without the full and free consent of at least one of the parties, is strongly linked with pregnancy in teens, the study presented by Plan RD said.
Of the 10 girls or teens married to adult men who were interviewed for the study, seven were pregnant at the time they established their unions.
Given that scenario, Plan proposed to the Dominican Congress revising the Civil Code to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 for both sexes, without exception.
In the Dominican Republic, according to current law, males younger than 16 and females younger than 15 may not marry, but a judge – for various reasons – may waive that requirement.
The Dominican state “must honor the international commitments it has signed with regard to protecting children, put an end to impunity for attackers who are protected by marriage and provide opportunities to girls to fashion a dignified life for themselves,” said Plan RD.