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Guatemala Votes to Raise Minimum Marriage Age to 18

It’s a really important step in recognizing the full potential of girls.

Via Flickr user Wolfgang Kalb

According to UNICEF, 7 percent of girls in Guatemala are married by age 15, and 30 percent are married by the age of 18. Child marriage not only impedes girls’ personal and educational development, but married girls run a higher risk of being subjected to domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, and poverty. That’s why, earlier this month, Guatemala’s congress took a big step to curb the practice of child marriage. In a landslide victory, the legislators voted 87-15 to raise the minimum marriage age for both genders to 18. Previously, girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 could marry.

Advocates believe these changes will reduce the teen pregnancy rates in Guatemala, which are the highest in Latin America. Christina Stewart, of the international rights organization Equality Now, said the new law is “a really important step in recognizing the full potential of girls and reframing how girls should be treated in society.” Although Guatemala’s decision is a step in the right direction, more work is needed to curb child marriage worldwide. According to the global partnership Girls Not Brides, if no more work is done on the issue, 142 million girls will be married by the end of the decade.

Facts about child marriage, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW):

  • One-third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15.
  • More than half of the girls in Bangladesh, Mali, Mozambique, and Niger are married before age 18. In these same countries, more than 75 percent of people live on less than $2 a day.
  • Girls with higher levels of education are less likely to marry as children. In Mozambique, some 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10 percent of those with secondary schooling.
  • Pregnancy is consistently among the leading causes of death for girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.
  • Child brides often face a higher risk of contracting HIV because they often marry an older man with more sexual experience.
  • A study conducted by ICRW in two states in India found that girls who were married before 18 were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later.
  • Child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and severe depression.

(H/T A Plus)

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