SAN SALVADOR – The decision on August 17 by El Salvador’s parliament to close a loophole in its child marriage law is an exciting step forward in the fight for girls’ rights.
Although marriage below the age of 18 is illegal in El Salvador, Article 14 of the country’s family code made it possible for girls to be married off before this age under certain circumstances.
These circumstances meant that if a girl became pregnant at 13, for example, she could be forced to marry a man twice her age at the request of her parents or a judge – her consent would not be required, despite the fact that the decision would change her life forever.
Huge step forward for girls' rights
Carmen Elena Aleman, Country Director for Plan International in El Salvador welcomed today’s announcement, saying:
In 2016, it was revealed that 9 out of 10 girls and adolescents were already in an informal union by the age of 18 - 5 out of 10 had been forced.
“The closure of the loophole in El Salvador’s family code is a hugely important step forward in the fight for girls’ rights. Child marriage is a deeply harmful practice that we know affects the lives of millions of girls here in El Salvador and we have campaigned long and hard to achieve the outcome announced today.
“However, there is still much to do. It will take time to change the practices and beliefs that are so deeply entrenched within our society, so we must now redouble our efforts to raise awareness of the damage this practice does to girls’ lives in the communities where we work.”
Child marriage and early unions are both serious problems in El Salvador. In a report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Minister of Health and the National Council of Childhood and Adolescents in 2016, it was revealed that 9 out of 10 girls and adolescents were already in an informal union by the age of 18 - five out of 10 had been forced into such a union.
These findings played a key role in bringing about the change in the law that was announced today. All 76 legislators voted in favour of closing the loophole and banning child marriage completely. There were no votes against the motion and no abstentions.
Child marriage robs girls of their rights
“Child marriage impacts on girls’ lives in a multitude of detrimental ways,” continues Aleman. “It robs them not only of their rights but also of their childhoods. A girl who is married before the age of 18 is more likely to drop out of school, to become a mother, to die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and to be trapped in a lifetime of poverty. Her hopes and dreams are limited by this practice, and she is also more likely to face domestic and sexual violence.
“All of these things have a deep effect on girls’ mental as well as physical health, and their possibilities of economic autonomy and their ability to make decisions about their own bodies are taken away from them. It is therefore a violation of a girl’s fundamental human rights to health, education, wellbeing and opportunity, and there are absolutely no circumstances under which it should be acceptable.
“We are therefore calling for the full backing of the judicial system, the Attorney General’s Office, and mayors to ensure this law is properly implemented by identifying and preventing child marriage so that we can properly protect girls, eradicate this practice and enable them to take control of their lives and their futures.”
Spokespersons in El Salvador are available for interviews.