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The untold stories of Guatemala’s child brides

Nearly 1 in 5 girls across Latin America and the Caribbean are married off before the age of 18. In countries like Guatemala, it’s nearly 1 in 3, and up until two years ago, girls as young as 14 there could marry.

“I was 11 years old when I quit school, that’s when we got married. He left me when I was 4 months pregnant. He said the child wasn’t his.” – Aracely, aged 15

Photographer Stephanie Sinclair travelled to Guatemala to meet the adolescent girls who married and become mothers before they were ready. “I was 11 years old when I quit school, that’s when we got married. He left me when I was 4 months pregnant. He said the child wasn’t his”, explains Aracely, 15.

Child marriage and adolescent pregnancies are intrinsically linked, as one often quickly follows the other. Pregnancy at an early age puts girls’ health at risk. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth is one of the leading causes of death for adolescent girls in the developing world.

A doctor explains: “Normal vaginal births in these cases are difficult. Their [girls’] hips are not wide enough for the baby to be pushed through the vaginal canal and this can lead to the death of the mother and the baby. Since these girls have a lack of micronutrients, the babies can be born with anencephaly*; such babies do not usually survive. This is the case for the majority of these girls.”

On top of health complications, child brides often face difficult, and sometimes abusive, relationships. One girl in the film explains: “When I realised I was pregnant, I was distressed. We called him but he never answered and he never came. During the time I was pregnant he didn’t give me any money. He hasn’t even come to see the boy now that he’s a year old.”

“When I realised I was pregnant, I was distressed. We called him but he never answered and he never came.”

In 2015, the government of Guatemala increased the age of marriage from 14 to 18 years old for girls. While the move was welcomed by activists, changing the law is only the first step – not only implementing the law, but also changing how women and girls are perceived in Guatemala will go a long way towards ending child marriage for good.

Child marriage in Guatemala

  • 30% of girls are married before the age of 18 in Guatemala.
  • Main drivers include tradition, poverty, discriminatory gender norms, and a lack of access to education.
  • Child marriage is more common among the Mayan indigenous communities who largely reside in rural areas and have poor access to basic services and opportunities.
  • In 2015, the government increased the age of marriage from 14 for girls and 16 for boys to 18 for all.
  • More info: Guatemala country profile.

* a major portion of the skull, brain and scalp are missing as they have failed to develop.