Photo credit: Maria Fleischmann | World Bank
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2016 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2016 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old.
* According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016.
Guatemala has one of the highest child marriage rates in Latin America. The practice primarily happens among poorer, indigenous, rural communities.
Child marriage in Guatemala is driven by tradition, poverty, discriminatory gender norms and a lack of access to education. Financial support of a male guardian is one of the principal reasons for parents wanting to secure a girl’s marriage at a young age.
Child marriage is most common among the Mayan indigenous communities who largely reside in rural areas and have poor access to basic services, few educational and economic opportunities, and higher rates of poverty than the non-indigenous population. For instance, only 39% of Mayan women are literate in comparison to 77% to non-indigenous women.
Once married, girls are expected and often pressured to start a family. Early pregnancy can lead to severe health consequences for young girls. Maternal mortality rates in Guatemala are among the highest in the region, and are 3 times higher among indigenous populations than non-indigenous women.
Legal age of marriage
The legal age of marriage in Guatemala is 18 for both women and men.
The Guatemalan government increased the minimum age of marriage to 18 years in 2015 in order to reflect international standards. Previously, the minimum age for marriage in Guatemala was 14 for girls and 16 for boys.
The new law protects young girls who are pressured or forced into marriage, and reduces discrimination against girls by holding girls and boys to the same age standard. Advocates hope that this new law will help prevent teenage pregnancy and stop girls dropping out of school.
However, women’s rights campaigners highlight that a cultural shift is required to change social and gendered norms regarding marriage. The challenge now is to ensure that the law is enforced and widely disseminated, particularly in indigenous and rural communities.
Members In Guatemala
- Population Council, Programs to address child marriage: Framing the problem, 2011
- Population Council, Assessing the multiple disadvantages of Mayan girls: The effects of gender, ethnicity, poverty, and residence on education in Guatemala, 2007
- Equality Now, Protecting the girl child Using the law to end child, early and forced marriage and related human rights violations, 2014