This story is from our member, Save the Children Mexico.
Getting married to Jesús seemed common sense to Itzel. “I knew him, I liked him and we fell in love.” At the time, Itzel was 14 and her boyfriend 17. It is not uncommon for teenagers to marry early in Mexico. According to UN Women, 6.8 million women aged 15-54 alive today in Mexico were married or in a union before the age of 18.
Rooted in gender inequality, child marriage has lasting consequences on girls’ lives and wellbeing. It can result in: school dropout, adolescent pregnancy, complications in pregnancy and maternal mortality, and poverty. Instead of going to school, Itzel now stays home. “[Jesús] goes out and looks after the animals. I stay here to do chores and when he comes back, I give him food.”
Marriage also confines girls to a life of domesticity. Itzel describes it as “lonely”. “When you are by yourself, you can go out and have fun. Now that I am married, I can only do things with my husband.” She adds: “I often eat alone […] I feel sad when I start to think that, if my mum were here, we would eat well.”
Itzel’s message to teenagers who are thinking about getting married is simple. “Really think about it. First you need to study. Now I wonder why I didn’t do it. If I had the chance to go back to school, I would.”
Child marriage in Mexico
- Nearly 1 in 4 girls in Mexico (23%) are married before the age of 18.
- Child marriage is intrinsically linked to adolescent pregnancy. 15.4% of women now aged 20-24 were mothers before the age of 18.
- Socio-economic status is also a big factor. More than 60% of women aged 20-24 who married before 18 were living in poverty.
- Child marriage is most common in rural and indigenous communities. 28% of women aged 20-24 living in rural areas have entered a union before 18, as opposed to 17.7% of women living in urban areas.
- Young people who speak indigenous languages are particularly affected by child marriage, with rates as high as 40% in Chiapas, Guerrero and Veracruz.
What does the law say?
Legal reform is underway in Mexico. At the end of 2014, the “Ley General de los Derechos de Niñas, Niños y adolescentes” (Law on the rights of girls, boys and adolescents) recommended that federal legislation should set the minimum age of marriage at 18. A few months later, Parliament approved a reform to the federal civil code which established 18 years as the minimum age of marriage.
But the situation varies at the state level. So far, 22 states have made marriage before 18 illegal while the remaining 10 still allow child marriage, sometimes as young as 14. Since 2015, UN Women Mexico has been advocating for harmonised legislation in all states and comprehensive action to address child marriage.
In the time it has taken to read this article 31 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds