PANAMA, October 11- One in four young women in Latin America and the Caribbean was married for the first time or found themselves in an early union before they turned 18. This rate has stayed the same for the past 25 years. If the observed trend continues, the region will have one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world by 2030, only behind Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report Profile of child marriage and early unions published today by UNICEF.
Child marriages and early unions represent a violation of human rights, however, it still occurs in the region, especially in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize, where the percentage of women aged 20 to 24 who married or found themselves in a union before the age of 18 exceeds 30 percent.
“Early unions or child marriage makes it difficult for young girls to have a life project,” said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “We can no longer keep our eyes closed to their lost potential and forgotten rights.”
According to data revealed in the report, in Latin America and the Caribbean, child-brides are more likely to live in rural areas, in poor households and with less access to education. In addition, this phenomenon often takes the form of an informal, or non-matrimonial, union.
The consequences of this practice are devastating for the life and development of child-brides. Most of the women who married during childhood also gave birth before age 18, and more than 8 out of 10 before age 20. In addition, adolescents who marry before the age of 18 face greater obstacles to find gainful employment, exposing them to a vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion.
“If we do not act now against child marriage and early unions, the present and future of adolescent girls are at risk because of the strong impact it has on early motherhood, the high risks of partner violence and the consequences of dropping out of school” said Shelly Abdool, Regional Gender Advisor at UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office. “Without interrupting this chain of consequences, the cycle will be repeated for generations to come, as it has been for the past 25 years. How long will we remain silent in the face of this reproduction of inequality?”
Although data is scarce, the report also highlights the relationship between violence and child marriage or early unions. Of the 4 countries with comparable data, child-brides report greater partner violence than women who marry after age 18. Regarding reproductive health, in the entire region, about 25 percent of young women do not see their contraceptive needs met with modern methods.
To reverse this situation, UNICEF, together with UNFPA and UN Women, is working with several actors in the region to reverse these alarming and historical trends. Putting girls and adolescents at the center of the solutions, the three UN agencies call for greater alignment of national frameworks to international standards, robust programs to support the empowerment of girls and adolescents, policies and services that prevent child marriage and early unions as well as reach those adolescents already affected and evidence and alliances to break the silence at national and regional level.