Chilean Feminists Work to Change Divorce Law

A bill legalizing divorce may soon be debated in the Chile legislature. Chilean feminists have long argued that the century-old ban on divorce prevents battered women from leaving violent spouses. The nation, under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church and extreme conservatism of the former military government, has outlawed divorce since the 1880’s. Physician Jimean Letelier, who left her husband after enduring their violent marriage for 16 years, said, “I can’t divorce him. The law doesn’t allow it. No matter what I try to do, I will always belong to him….It makes me sick.” While Chile permits legal separation, the process is time-consuming and expensive. Even if couples obtain legal separations, they cannot marry again. In addition to hurting abused women, the law has actually increased the number of Chilean couples who live together out of wedlock and raised the birth rate of illegitimate children to almost 40%, the highest in Latin America. Chilean society stigmatizes these children and gives them a lower social status by prohibiting them from becoming military officers or holding high police positions.

Political analysts believe that a divorce law would pass in the lower house of Congress, but the Senate, which includes eight “designated” legislators appointed by the military, presents more of an obstacle. These senators, however, are likely to lose their offices in the December election, so the bill will probably pass by early next year. .


Washington Post - August 5, 1997

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