Progress in education and societal norms have done much to slow the rate of child marriage worldwide. However, it is still a pressing issue faced by many in the developing world.
New research shows a troubling trend in Latin America, where child marriage is increasing rather than declining. Mexico has the eighth highest number of child marriages, according to a 2017 report from Girls Not Brides.
One in four girls in Mexico will enter some type of union before the age of 18, but the rate is more than 30 percent in some states. In some areas of the country, early marriages are common and still normalized, according to the report.
Many girls are forced into relationships as a way to obtain security or status, or as an attempt to escape poverty and violence. Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and discriminatory social norms that adversely affect females. Data from a 2016 World Bank report shows that Latin America has one of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy in the world. A 2014 Mexican law set the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 for both genders, however, many states do not comply or make exceptions.
Cultural factors can also contribute to the abuse of young women. Situations can arise where a girl chooses to be in a union simply because she lacks other options. Choice for all girls should be a right, not a privilege afforded only to some.
The Mexican legislation also does not address the problem of young girls living with older men outside of marriage. Rates of child marriage are also higher in rural areas than urban.
Researchers say that child marriage is an issue more associated with Asia and Africa, rather than Latin America. This report brings to light the underlying issues facing the continent. It also provides hard evidence of the problem of child marriage in Latin America. The region is the only one in the world to not see a significant change in the rates of child marriage over the past 30 years.
Governmental policies aimed at solidifying the age of consent for marriages is a good first step to ending the practice of child marriage. More education and governmental support is needed to reverse the trend. The report’s authors say the government must recognize that legal restrictions on child marriage in Mexico are not enough to combat the issue. The Mexican government – and all governments, for that matter – must ensure that all women have access to higher education. Society’s perceptions of what is expected from women needs to change. I look forward to a day when girls around the world do not see early marriage as their only option. Every child deserves the right to a quality education, regardless of where they are in the world.
Girl Museum Inc.