In Guatemala, friends unite to end child marriage

Wendy, Rosy, Maribel, and Álida attending a Plan workshop in Guatemala. | Photo credit: Plan International|Mikko Toivonen

Álida, Rosy and Mayra are three young campaigners living in Carchá municipality, Guatemala. They have been friends for years and live close to each other in nearby communities. Together they have taken part in a number of workshops run by Plan International to learn about their rights, protection, self-esteem and leadership skills.

Over time, they have developed confidence and learnt how to express themselves and teach other children about their rights. The girls also have strong support from their communities and families.

 “I collected signatures and was part of a team of people who had brought about change, I felt so proud” – Mayra

The friends recently took part in a successful campaign to end child marriage in Guatemala led by Plan International as part of our Because I am a Girl movement, which saw the age of marriage raised to 18.

The law, approved by Congress in August 2015, raised the minimum marriage age from 14 for girls and 16 for boys, but said 16-year-old girls would still be able to marry with a judge’s permission under some circumstances.

Rosy during workshop with girls. Photo credit | Plan International, Mikko Toivonen

Rosy during workshop with girls. Photo credit: Plan International | Mikko Toivonen

“A friend of mine who was married at 13, already has several children. It is very difficult for me to see her in this situation because we played together at school,” shares Álida who is still very concerned about the situation of girls in her community.

A quarter of Guatemalan births are to teenage mothers – one of the highest rates in Latin America. The hope is that the ban on child marriage will help prevent teenage pregnancy and stop girls dropping out of school.

Child marriage, often to a much older man, deprives girls of education and opportunities, keeping them in poverty, and puts them at greater risk of domestic and sexual violence.

“I think that young people have been very happy about the news of the increase in the minimum age of marriage, but it is the adults that find it difficult to accept. They say that we are too young and we know nothing,” says Rosy.

Girls attending a Plan workshop in Guatemala | Photo credit | Plan International, Mikko Toivonen

Girls attending a Plan workshop in Guatemala. Photo credit: Plan International | Mikko Toivonen

Complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls globally, and babies born to adolescent mothers face a “substantially higher risk” of dying than those born to women in their early 20s, according to the World Health Organization.

“When I heard that they had approved the new law, I felt so much happiness because I had helped make it happen. I collected signatures and was part of a team of people who had brought about change, I felt so proud,” explains Mayra.

“I plan to go to college to study social work so I can help my community.” – Álida

Álida is also optimistic about her future: “I had the support and love of my parents, which helped me a lot. Now I am working but plan to go to college to study social work so I can help my community.”

The girls are preparing for the challenge of promoting the new law in their communities, school and families, with the aim of ensuring that child marriage becomes a thing of the past.