A new study on childhood marriage conducted by Plan International shows an alarming reality in the Dominican Republic, where four out of 10 women (37 percent) got married before they turned 18.
According to a survey cited in the study, 12.5 percent of Dominican women between 20 and 49 married before they turned 15.
In the Caribbean country, females younger than 15 may not marry, but a judge may waive that requirement. As for males, the law allows them to marry at age 16 and older.
While child marriage affects girls in far greater numbers than boys, data on males affected by child marriage are limited. According to UNICEF, the highest rates of boys married before age 18 are were found in the Central African Republic (28 percent), distantly followed by Madagascar and Laos (13 percent).
Plan International's study also found that one in every five females aged 15-19 is married or living with a man at least 10 years older.
"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.
She also said that 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.
Plan International is recommending the Dominican Congress to revise the Civil Code to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 for both sexes, without exception.
“[The Dominican Republic] 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 International’s Raquel Casares on the organization’s website.
EFE contributed to this report.