By the time you have read this sentence, a girl under the age of 18 will have become a bride.
Every two seconds somewhere in the world a child marriage takes place; that’s 28 child brides a minute. (1) Now imagine if that was your daughter, your niece or your granddaughter. Her childhood and education cut short, her body no longer her own and her rights violated. It’s almost too much to comprehend.
Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18. Each year, 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 (1). Across the 25 countries with the highest number of child marriages, one in five women aged 18-22 had her first child before 18. (2)
We often associate child marriage with places like Chad or the Central African Republic and parts of Asia such as Bangladesh. Instead when we think of Mexico, what might spring to mind is the vibrant culture and delicious food. But alarmingly, new research by the Ford Foundation has revealed that child marriage in Mexico is on the rise. (2)
Sadly, the data represents part of a wider trend across Latin America, the only region in the world where child marriage is increasing rather than in decline. Mexico has the eighth highest number of child marriages; more than 5% of girls are married before the age of 15 and nearly 1 in 4 girls are married, or in a union before the age of 18 (3). This figure can be even higher for girls living in rural areas.
The causes of child marriage:
Where poverty is severe, families and sometimes even the girls themselves believe early marriage can be a path towards financial stability and security. For some, it’s a way to escape poverty or violence in their family home. But tragically, all too often, these girls go on to face violence at the hands of their husbands instead. This may lead to a cycle of abuse, violence, gender inequality and sometimes death.
Cultural factors and tradition can also play a part. Some girls see marriage as a way of gaining respect or status within their communities. While in some regions, there is sometimes a perception that if a man marries a younger woman he is viewed as more masculine. It can also be a matter of control with significantly older husbands holding all the power and resources in the relationship.
The impact of child marriage:
A child bride isn’t physically or emotionally ready to be a wife or a mother. This can have harmful consequences on her health, education and wellbeing. Girls who are married young are often isolated from their friends and family. They can be at greater risk of domestic violence, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering dangerous complications during pregnancy and childbirth. (4)
Child marriage can also have an impact on a girl’s education. Girls are often forced to leave school early to help with domestic duties or look after family before they have completed their studies. A lack of education can disempower girls and lead to limited employment opportunities later in life.
Empowering girls in Mexico:
The issues around child marriage are complex but our project staff in Mexico understand the specific challenges that girls face in their communities. Compassion helps to educate girls and their families on the harmful effects of child marriage. We provide girls with emotional support and access to a quality education, empowering them to reach their full potential.
14-year-old Lizbeth Sanchez is the oldest of four children. She lives with her entire family in a room in her grandparents’ home. She is part of the Mazahua community and attends the Strong Tower Compassion project in the community of Donato Guerra in Western Mexico. Through the support of her local Compassion project Lizbeth is protected from child marriage. She has been able to complete her education so far and is now in her last year of junior high school. Her mother, Amparo, tells her girls to commit to school, take advantage of the bright opportunities which are ahead of them and not to marry too soon.
Lizbeth reflects, “Some teenagers have the chance to study but are not very committed. Others struggle because there are not enough resources at home to study. That is why I am resolved to do well.” Lizbeth is committed to completing her studies, fulfilling her dreams and championing girl’s education in her community.
Julia Miranda, the project secretary for Lizbeth’s Compassion project explains, “Mothers accept the custom of telling the girls that they will not go to school or receive an education because they will have to be married and have their own children.” For some, child marriage has been a practice which has been part of their culture for generations. That’s why Julia and her team work tirelessly to sensitively challenge attitudes and norms. They encourage parents to keep their daughters in school and help families to envisage an alternative future for their girls.
Our mission to protect girls
Compassion has been serving vulnerable children in Mexico for over 30 years. We seek to empower girls through the local church, project staff and the love of a sponsor.
We believe no girl should ever be robbed of her childhood, well-being or education by early marriage. Together we are winning the battle for so many girls around the world.
Sponsor a girl in Mexico