Thursday is Human Rights Day, and so my wife Ellen and I are joining with the International Justice Mission (IJM) and other organizations in strongly urging the Dominican Constitutional Court to protect children by declaring child marriage unconstitutional in 2020.
A report from UNICEF shows that one in four girls in Latin America and the Caribbean marries or enters into an early union before reaching 18 years old. Troublingly, the Dominican Republic has the highest rate in the region. Currently, there is a devastating loophole in the law of the Dominican Republic, which legally allows children to be forced into marriage. Marriages are banned under a minimum age — for girls, 15 years old — but the law lets judges make exceptions.
According to IJM's staff on the ground in the Dominican Republic, this primarily affects girls and adolescents, although boys can also be victims of it. Child marriage often becomes a permit for an adult who seduces a minor and takes advantage of her to cover up his crime and avoid criminal consequences. This must change.
Through our charity, Kershaw's Challenge, Ellen and I work primarily with people in Dallas (my hometown); Los Angeles; and in the countries of Zambia, and the Dominican Republic, so the issue is one that's close to me. Zambia's rates of child marriage are also high — as are those of other countries in Latin America besides the Dominican Republic. But given the country's laws and some recent efforts to change them, the Dominican Republic's rates of child marriage would appear closer to a tipping point.
There have been important strides recently taken, by President Luis Abinader and the House of Representatives — the House voted to remove two articles in the country's civil code that allow for the loophole. Senate approval is pending. Many are taking strong stands against child marriage, but more is needed. Declaring child marriage unconstitutional in the Dominican Constitutional Court is not just a technical modification to the legal code, but something that will impact real children in the Dominican Republic, who will be protected and have the freedom to dream and become who they want to be and, most importantly, will never be victims of this violence.
As a kid growing up, I dreamed of playing baseball in the major leagues and winning a World Series. So winning it in 2020 was quite literally a dream come true, but even with all of the notoriety that has come with awards and recognition over my baseball career, the most important thing people can do is use their platform for positive change.
Since 2011 through Kershaw's Challenge, we have been investing in our local communities as well as internationally to impact the lives of children. Because of the strong tie to baseball and the connection we feel to the culture and people, we specifically focus part of our efforts on the Dominican Republic.
As a father, I want nothing less for my children than to experience that same freedom to enjoy their childhoods, dream and decide who they want to become, but when children are forced into marriage, their freedom to dream and become who they want to be is taken away. It has devastating and long-term impacts on children, like limiting their development opportunities, exposing them to other forms of violence like sexual abuse, early pregnancy and dropping out of school; it can even make them vulnerable to sex trafficking.
From where you are, you can join us and help amplify the work IJM and its partners are doing on the ground to promote this critical change in legislation that will put an end to the practice of child marriage in the Dominican Republic. We have the opportunity to be part of that change, so let's lift our voices and use our platforms today. We'll be tagging the Dominican Constitutional Court on Twitter (@TribunalConstRD) using the hashtags #nolacases and #niñasnoesposas to ask them to rule with justice and protect children by declaring child marriage unconstitutional. They have the power to make a change for good.
Clayton Kershaw is a starting pitcher for MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers and most recently earned a World Series title in 2020. Clayton and his wife Ellen founded Kershaw's Challenge to make a difference and give back to people in need. The views expressed in this op-ed are his own.