Melany advocates for girls’ rights and an end to early and forced marriage

5 December 2023

Meet the young Dominican woman advocating for girls' rights, urging the president to help prevent early and forced marriage and teen pregnancy.

Melany, 13, is a girls' rights advocate.
Melany, 13, explains that although early and forced marriage is now banned, informal unions of girls with older men persist and often result in early and unwanted pregnancies.

In 2020, Melany, a 10-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic, rolled up her sleeves for a unique opportunity. She became the first girl to serve as president of the Dominican Republic.

It was only for a day – but it was a chance to advocate for girls’ rights in the highest corridors of power, and Melany made the most of it. That day, she spent about four hours with Luis Abinader (the country’s actual president), formally requesting that he protect and prioritise girls’ rights.

“Mr. President, I will be following up,” she said as she left the National Palace.

In January 2021, a little more than a year after Melany “took office,” President Abinader enacted the 1-21 Law, a decree that made early and forced marriage illegal in the Dominican Republic.

Melany when she took over the president at the National Palace.
To mark International Day of the Girl, Melany, then aged 10, took over the position of President of Dominican Republic from recently elected Luis Abinader on 8 October 2020.

“This law helps a lot, because sometimes girls get married, not by their own choice but because of arranged marriages for money or property or to escape abuse,” explains Melany.

“Because the practice is informal, the numbers are invisible.”

Melany, 13, Dominican Republic

However, Melany’s advocacy doesn’t end there. Although early and forced marriage is now banned, informal unions of girls with older men persist and often result in early and unwanted pregnancies.

“Because the practice is informal, the numbers are invisible,” she explains.

Early and forced marriage (before age 18) is common in the Dominican Republic. Even girls as young as 10 have been forced to marry or live with older men. Girls in this situation are more likely to drop out of school, experience domestic violence and sexual abuse and have their opportunities evaporate – all of which fuels the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

Melany continues to be invested in the cause – and her future. Through Crecer Contenta (Growing Up Happy), a teen-pregnancy- and early-marriage-prevention program facilitated by Plan International, she is also learning life skills and acquiring financial literacy.

A big believer in the importance of developing herself “economically,” Melany recognises the connection between money and agency. “Like sexual education, money management should be taught at school,” she says.

“Like sports, learning English and technical skills, it will help someone.”