The Dominican Republic boasts 900  miles of beautiful Caribbean coastline. It’s long been a popular vacation destination with the beautiful beaches, incredible cuisine, and energetic nightlife.  These are the things that pop into most people’s minds when they think of the Dominican Republic.

What people don’t think of though is how the Caribbean nation has the highest child marriage rates in both Latin America and the Caribbean. The International Justice Mission (IJM) is an organization that addresses social issues in developing countries. They have partnered with DR authorities since 2014 to address the serious issue of child sex trafficking in the country.

Sonia Hernandez it the Associate Director of Public Justice System Strengthening for IJM and says:

“This harmful practice results in a lack of protection, inequality, lack of opportunities, and early pregnancy for girls. It also has a direct impact on the country’s economy.”

Additionally, human rights experts agree that the practice of child  marriage increases susceptibility to sex trafficking. The DR finally took steps to address this archaic practice when President Abinader approved a bill on January 6 that removes all legal parameters for child marriage. Girls have historically been the most vulnerable to the horrific practice, and the new laws will enact safeguards designed to protect the fundamental rights of children in the DR.

Prior to the passage and signing of Law 1-21, DR law allowed for children to be forced into marriage if parental and judicial consent were given. The new law states that children under the age of 18 will no longer be able to marry or be forced into marriage, either by parents or a judge.

The changes couldn’t come at a more timely moment. Studies have shown that desperation–especially of an economic nature–lead to harsh decisions made by families in an attempt to survive. In a U.N. report that looked at the treatment of women and children, experts warned that the harsh economic conditions exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a catastrophic increase in forced child marriages over the next ten years.

These harsh and desperate conditions due to COVID have already had a severe negative impact on the poverty stricken country. An article posted on DOMINICAN TODAY states that the pandemic has increased the number of residents living in severe monetary poverty between 2.4 and 6.5 percent over the past year. General poverty rose from 20.9% to 27.4%.

To help ensure the success of the new legislation, President Abinader also established a new special cabinet under the Ministry for Women. On eliminated the harmful practice of child marriage, a press release from the President’s office states:

“…the Dominican State fulfills its commitments with other States and international organizations that consider this practice a form of torture, abuse and a violent mechanism against children’s rights.”

IJM will continue it’s work with the DR justice system to ensure continued progress in the area of children’s rights and protection. Says Sonia Hernandez:

“Through this law, a new stage begins in the country. Our girls and adolescents will be protected…and cannot be forced into marriage in their childhood or adolescence.”

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