It is one of the countries with the highest number of this type of unions in the world. One in five Dominicans ends up married as a minor.
Natalia ran away from her home, in the interior of the Dominican Republic, the day before her wedding. She was 16 years old and trying to run away from a marriage with a much older man she did not love. But her mother hunted her down, took her to church and, while putting her tiara on her, threatened her: “If when they ask you if you agree to marry him, you say no, I kill you and I kill myself“.
The memory of the blows her mother had given her on other occasions to prevent her from leaving her boyfriend gave the death threat of an undeniable credibility.
So the young woman had no choice but to abide by her maternal order and begin a life together with a man for whom she did not feel any affection and with whom, after 15 years of relationship, already had four children.
On her wedding day, Natalia -fictitious name- was able to verify that she was not alone. His cousins surrounded him, all of them married teens or with formal boyfriends. An image that illustrates a harsh reality for girls in the Dominican Republic: one of the countries with the highest number of child marriages in the world.
At least one in five Dominicans end up married or in informal unions as a minor, and on many occasions, with men twice their age.
Child marriage it’s legalized from 15 years for girls and, at the moment, they are processing two initiatives that try to prohibit it, one through the courts and the other through the legislative, but statistics show that the problem is so deeply rooted that escapes the limits of the law.
In fact, in 12% of weddings or unions that are registered in the country, the bride is less than 15 years old, a figure that is double the average for Latin America (5%), according to data from Unicef.
The reasons that explain such a number of forced child marriages are various, explains the Minister for Women, Mayra Jiménez: the fact that this practice is still legal, public policies “that have failed”, in addition to “a cultural problem” and ” a problem of machismo. “
Other factors also play a role, such as the expectation of out of poverty, domestic violence, hypersexualization of girls or religion.
The latter was the case of Natalia: her mother did not conceive that her daughter could have more than one partner in her life. The mother’s pressure continued even after the wedding, forcing her daughter to satisfy her husband’s sexual appetite against her will.
“When I had to have relations with him, with someone that I did not love, that I did not love, that it was already obligatory, many times he would tell me when I did not want to: I’m going to talk to your mom. And since my mother is strong, I am afraid of her, she has a strong character, I agreed. There was no other “, he says with resignation.
Now, Natalia assures that she has “gotten used to” and that she endures with her husband because of the sense of “responsibility”, to raise the four children they have in common.
At the age of 16, Yorllina Cuevas met her future husband, then 28, while washing clothes in a canal in La Lista, a village in the Barahona province (southwest), one of the poorest areas of the country and with taxes highest of children’s weddings.
He was surprised by the bruises on Yorllina’s face and torso, caused by the constant beatings her father gave her. She saw in that man an escape.
“It was like looking for protection, my father mistreated me and my mother a lot. It was looking for a refuge, not because he thought I was prepared for a home or a family,” she argues.
A few months later, already married, they moved to the capital. Yorllina immediately became pregnant and discovered then the character of her husband, a controlling man who did not let her go out with friends, or choose her clothes.