On 5 November, after 3 years of advocacy efforts, the National Congress of Guatemala approved a law establishing 18 as the minimum age for marriage – both for women and men.
We are very excited about this new law, which will protect girls against sexual abuse, teen pregnancies, trafficking and physical and emotional violence. All too often child brides are pulled out of school - now girls will be able to continue their education and fulfill their potential.
The previous law had allowed girls to get married at 14 years old, and boys at 16. Between 2009 and 2013 more than 80,000 girls under 18 got married; the majority with men triple their age.
Campaigning to protect girls
Plan International's Because I am a Girl campaign gave us a platform to make profound and sustainable improvements in the lives of girls and propose the law change. For 3 years our staff, alongside local and national partners, collaborated on an advocacy strategy with a group of civil society organisations called ‘Mesa en favor de las Niñas y Adolescentes’ working in favour of girls’ rights.
With these partners we started the profound job of influencing congressmen and, bolstered by the support of the Legislation and Women´s Commission, we took the bold move of presenting law 47-46, which elevates the age for boys and girls to marry. At the same time we were able to obtain support from Canadian and British ambassadors, raising awareness at different levels.
One of the biggest challenges was to reach out to a large group of legislators opposing the modification whose main argument was related to cultural patterns of indigenous populations which, according to some, permits this type of union.
Yet, as investigating and consulting was an important aspect during these 3 years, we had built valid arguments that allowed us to rebut their points, including that of an expert indigenous specialist who cited Mayan laws mentioning that a woman cannot be forced to take on a husband.
Enforcing the law
Finally, on 5 November, Congress unanimously approved the ‘Decreto 8-2015’, raising the legal age of marriage. With this advance in legislation, girls can exercise their rights.
Our challenge now is to widely disseminate the new law – especially in rural communities
Our challenge now is to widely disseminate the new law – especially in the rural communities where traditions and culture still reinforce these negative practices – and ensure it is enforced.
It is very important for all of us to make sure the law is fulfilled and that we all recognise that if we don’t follow through we are denying girls their right to an education, to grow up free of violence, and to develop their life plans in a free and happy way.