Co-authored by Marian Cortes, Program Quality Manager, Katherine de la Cruz Project Coordinator & Stefania Minniti Regional Advocacy-Campaigns Manager, LAC
Child marriage or a 'free union' is a normalised practice in Dominican society, especially for girls facing the harsh repurcussions of poverty. Not only that, but in the Dominican Republic, child marriage impacts 27.5% of adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 years!
The 2014 ENHOGAR survey found that 12.5% of Dominicans between 20 and 49 years old were married or involved in a free union before the age of 15, and 37% had children before the age of 18.
The Dominican Civil Code allows girls and teenagers to marry after the age of 15, and if they want to get married before the age of 16- for men and 15 -for women, then the authorization of their parents or a judge is enough for the marriage to go ahead. According to Dominican Republic's Central Electoral Board, between 2018 and 2019, 16 monthly marriages have been formally registered, where the age difference between the female and male partner is between 30 and 40 years. It is unknown what the number of early unions might be, as registration is not necessary because there is no regulatory jurisprudence.
In order to advance in the elimination of child marriage across the country, we must work to strengthen the institutional and legal frameworks which respect the human rights of girls and teenagers!
In order to take action to support this, a digital campaign was done pro bono by a film production agency BOU GROUP which was launched in March. This aimed to open up the debate to citizens about the Civil Code and to present the situation of women and adolescent girls who live in the country. We also explained how supporters could take action by signing the petition that we would present to the deputies.
By mobilising the public with the digital campaign, we have asked the Congress of the Dominican Republic to comply with its duty to guarantee the rights of girls and adolescents. This is through the implementation of Article 56 of the Dominican Constitution on the protection of children and adolescents, minors & international treaties on human rights- which has all been signed off and ratified by the country. This also includes the approval of a Civil Code that eliminates the legal provisions that allow or facilitate child marriage.
“We have a commitment with the girls and adolescents, and from my position I will continue making all the necessary efforts to defend in the Chamber of Deputies the elimination of Child Marriage as well as to guarantee the integral protection of their Rights" - Karen Ricardo, Deputy to the National Congress.
“Count on our support, as a deputy and as a presidential candidate, our position as a party is clear, to eliminate child marriage in the Civil Code it is a legal and moral necessity” - Victor (Ito) Bisonó, Deputy to the National Congress
"We want to give to deputies and senators these citizen signatures so that the voice of the citizenship reaches the institutions and the protection of girls and adolescents is a fact in our Civil Code" - Alba Rodriguez, Executive Director of Save the Children Dominican Republic.
Progress to date
Up until now we have collected over 50,000 signatures and handed them over to a number of deputies and senators with the aim of changing the Civil Code to raise the minimum legal age to get married to 18.
At the same time, we will be delivering the results of the petition to other key actors such as the vice Presidency, President of the Senate, businessmen, presidential candidates, especially in the run up to the presidential elections next year. In June, after our advocacy actions, six business sector groups - with more than 400 associated companies -, sent a letter to the President of the Chamber of Deputies supporting the prohibition of child marriage in the Civil Code. The letter was also published by the two most important communication groups in the country.
The day before the session in the Chamber of Deputies, we invited artists, actors, influencers and businessmen to ask the Chamber – through videos published in social media -to eliminate the dispensation in the Civil Code that would allow marriage at age 16. Finally, on July 23rd, during the discussion of the modification of the Civil Code, the Chamber of Deputies approved that the issue be passed for internal review and discussion to the Justice Commission which is part of the Chamber of Deputies and is made up of all parties, because there was no agreement on the minimum age to get married among the deputies.
For the start of the new legislature, on mid-August, we will continue with strategies of public mobilization, political advocacy and communication to continue positioning the issue of eliminating child marriage within the current political agenda. Save the Children Dominican Republic has consulted with a group of lawyers to present an appeal for unconstitutionality, in the case of approval of the dispensation that would allow child marriage. Within the next year during the electoral campaign, we will also be promoting the importance of protecting girls and adolescent women.