December 3, 2020

Child marriage, the greatest threat to 1 in 4 girls in Latin America

One in four minors marry or establish an informal union before the age of 18 in Latin America, the main problem of girls and adolescents in the region, according to the World Population Status 2020, presented this Tuesday by the UN.

That is one of 19 problems, such as corporal punishment, incest and infanticide, according to the report “Against my will. Challenge practices that harm women and girls and impede equality, ”from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The global prevalence of this harmful practice is 21%, a list headed by West and Central Africa (40%) and Eastern and Southern Africa (34%), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, where one in four girls (25 %) are married or in an informal union before reaching the age of 18 and in some parts of the region the figure is one in three (33%).

At least 60 million Latin American women marry without being of legal age, with the Dominican Republic (36%), Nicaragua (35%), Honduras (34%) and Guatemala (30%) presenting the highest rates, while Brazil and Mexico they are fourth and eighth in the world by number of cases, respectively.


“The phenomenon here is not so much marriage, it is unions,” said Neus Bernabeu, UNFPA regional adviser on Gender and Youth for Latin America and the Caribbean, who added during a virtual media conference that it is something that affects more ” the poorest households, those with less education, rural areas and indigenous populations, “almost 60% of the total.

A situation that, in a kind of vicious circle, prolongs social deficiencies “for life”. These minors “interrupt their life trajectories, drop out of schools, become pregnant, have a much greater chance of having children early and more children,” added Bernabeu.

Thus, on the one hand, girls with only primary education are twice as likely to marry or go to live in a free union. On the other hand, 86% of women married or in a free union before the age of 18 had had a child before the age of 20, in contrast to 34% of those who married when they were of legal age.

Although progress has been made such as the elimination in 2019 of all legal exceptions in child marriage in El Salvador and Guatemala and the insertion of a goal in the Colombian National Development Plan to eliminate the practice, Latin America is the only region in the world where this problem has not been reduced in 25 years.

“You may not ‘see the photo’ of a very old man with a girl dressed as a bride, but there is a very common practice of unions, with age differences of 8 to 10 years. The bad thing is that if you do not see it, it is not addressed, “he told Efe Bernabeu.

“A cultural change is needed. Parents must oppose and governments must fulfill their obligations to international treaties,” said Harold Robinson, UNFPA regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean.


Female genital mutilation, which this year can affect 4.1 million girls and women and is present in 31 countries of the world, most of Africa, also harms some Latin American women.

For example, in Colombia, in indigenous communities such as the Embera Chamí, in the department of Valle del Cauca (southwest), who inherited this practice in colonial times to prevent female infidelity through clitoridectomy, known locally as “the cure” .

Although in 2015 the indigenous authorities signed a mandate to eradicate it, this practice has not disappeared, as is evident when girls go to health centers with serious injuries, which even causes death.

“Like all human beings, indigenous women have the right to privacy, to good health and to preserve the body with which they were created, because there is nothing imperfect about us,” defends Arelis Cortés, who at 28 years of age works with the Regional Indigenous Organization of Valle del Cauca, in a task of raising awareness with trips of “up to eight or nine hours to reach the most remote communities.”


The preference for male children, which has created an imbalance between the male and female population and which can lead to greater risks of male violence, is one of the three harmful practices that should be worked on the most to totally eradicate them, according to the report.

A practice that, according to Robinson, has “caused a ‘deficit’ of some 140 million women” in the world, although in Latin America, according to the United Nations analysis, “parents tend to attribute the same value to daughters and children, and sometimes favor the former. “

Something that is still surprising in a region of marked machismo and that, unfortunately, does not translate into better conditions, especially in matters of gender violence, a problem that has increased in some countries due to quarantines against the coronavirus.

A situation that, according to the UNFPA regional director, implies an additional risk: “The response to the pandemic is interrupting many of the programs” aimed at ending harmful practices.

The UN Population Fund admits that it is difficult to eliminate these harmful practices by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially since, as Bernabeu said, “many girls and women are still treated as sexual objects, like hindrances, like merchandise. “

“The only thing that can change this situation is equal treatment. It seems incredible that in the 21st century we have to ask for equal treatment for girls. Men have to recognize that there is a male privilege that must be ended,” said Robinson, who He asked to comply with three fundamental things: “Respect, protect and fulfill (the laws)”.


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