A Big Step Forward for Girls in the Dominican Republic

On January 6, 2021, the Dominican Republic (DR) hit an important milestone when President Luis Abinader outlawed child marriage under all circumstances, closing the loopholes that once allowed girls under 18 to legally marry with parental consent and approval from a judge.

This milestone would not have been possible without the support of the Girls First Fund (GFF). In 2018, GFF chose the DR as one of its six inaugural countries for its first grants supporting Community Based Organizations (CBOs) making inroads against child marriage.

Twelve million girls are married before the age of 18 across the globe each year. Driven by gender inequality and prevailing social norms, child marriage puts girls’ personal development and wellbeing at risk and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. GFF wanted to respond to this problem by directly supporting CBOs in multiple regions around the world including Latin America and the Caribbean, a region where child marriage is largely characterized by informal early unions, and thus, has historically been deprioritized by the philanthropic community. The Fund had its work cut out for it with the DR (where I am from) not only because of its high rate of child marriage, but because the practice was so normalized and woven into the culture that it was not even considered a problem. Grantees began the work of raising awareness and problematizing the issue, engaging community members in ways that made them think critically about why they thought a 15-year-old girl cohabitating with a 30-year-old man was normal.

Since the work of the Fund began, over one million dollars have been granted to CBOs all over the country. These organizations are reaching the hardest to reach girls, girls living in batey communities (settlement communities of sugarcane workers from Haiti) that are not documented, lack basic needs like electricity and water, and cannot go to school; and deaf girls, who experience intersecting oppressions, are highly susceptible to sexual violence and child marriage, and are ostracized in Dominican society. With support from a GFF Program Advisor, Dayhana Hernandez, CBOs were also able to create a small committee where they liaised with governmental institutions and UNICEF and used their experience to influence decision makers. Lucia Osirus, Executive Director of MONDHA, said “we were already working on this issue but when the GFF came it helped us get to the root of the problem and because we finally had money, we did collective advocacy, and people finally started taking child marriage seriously.”

GFF grantees are a big part of the reason why child marriage is now at the forefront of Dominican politics. The significant funding support GFF provided grantees added weight to their voices and provided them greater visibility, helping to shift power towards women and girl CBO leaders from vulnerable communities. While the Fund’s work is far from done, and we know that a law will not end the many early unions or informal marriages that occur, this is a monumental step and sets an important precedent for the future.

The Girls First Fund is a program of Capital for Good and supported with services from Geneva Global.