The forced union of girls and adolescents does happen in some rural and Indigenous communities in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. In these contexts – where a large part of the population does not have access to services like education and health care, or livelihood opportunities – some families agree to their adolescent daughters entering unions with men, in exchange for money.
This practice is longstanding, and governments and civil society are aware of it; many civil society organisations – including members of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage – have been denouncing it for years. In 2021, the national and international press began to highlight and question this practice in earnest.
While public interest in this issue is a positive development, there is cause for concern in the way the press and some political actors have addressed it. Their approach does not contribute to a real, deep and permanent solution that promotes girls’ and adolescents’ rights. It has rather tended to stigmatise Indigenous peoples and communities that have already been marginalised by a system that does not work for or with them.
This joint statement has been signed by 40 organisations – including Girls Not Brides member organisations based in Mexico – who have direct experience of promoting and defending girls’, adolescents’ and women’s rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.
They highlight the root causes of child, early and forced marriage (CEFMU) in the region – placing the form of forced unions practised in parts of Guerrero within this broader context – and outline recommendations for a strategy to address the practice. They urge state institutions to compile an urgent action plan, with girls’ and adolescents’ rights at its core.
Joint statement: Forced unions and child marriage in Guerrero, Mexico
In response to the media coverage of the cases of forced unions of adolescents in Guerrero, Mexico (“sale of girls”), we would like to share the following joint statement.
- Violence against girls and adolescents is not part of the traditional worldview of Indigenous peoples.
- Stricter laws are not enough; we need to address the structural causes of child, early and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU).
- We need a coordinated action plan that places the rights of girls and adolescents at the centre of federal ministries and agencies, state and municipal governments, and community authorities.
Forced unions in communities in Guerrero, Mexico, are a real issue that affects the rights of girls and adolescents. Such unions are rooted in poverty, lack of access to services and opportunities and gender inequality, which is a global issue.
We know that CEFMU should be addressed by placing the rights of girls and adolescents at the centre, and by working with communities to change the social and gender norms promoting this practice.
To this end, we need to recognise girls’ and adolescents’ agency, provide education that encourages them to develop their life plans, and change gender stereotypes that reinforce the idea that marriage or union is the only way to gain financial survival, participation and social recognition.
Making laws stricter will not end CEFMU if public policies do not guarantee the rights of Indigenous children and adolescents. This includes access to health and education, opportunities for development and financial independence, and respect for their culture and worldview.
We are also concerned that public opinion may interpret recent events in a way that contributes to the stigmatisation of communities, their customs and their traditions. Violence against children and adolescents is not part of the worldview of Indigenous peoples. Respect for the rights of girls, adolescents and women should not be limited by culture, language, place of origin or socio-economic status.
We call on federal, state and municipal institutions – including the National System for the Protection of Children and Adolescents (SIPINNA, its Spanish acronym), the Ministries of the Interior, Health, Welfare, Public Education, Women’s Affairs, the System for Integrated Family Development (DIF, its Spanish acronym), heads of the state government, municipalities and community government councils – to compile an urgent action plan to address this problem, involving Indigenous girls, adolescents and women, and community leaders and authorities.
We also call for recognition of the work of national and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in addressing CEFMU, and for their strategies to be supported. These strategies have proven that a focus on the rights of girls and adolescents and on integrated community development – which respects their cultures and includes issues like health, education, prevention of violence and support for productive projects – can generate positive changes within these communities.
The undersigned will continue to work to address child, early and forced marriages and unions in our country, the region and the world. We are willing to collaborate with the different authorities and civil organisations to develop and implement actions for the benefit of all girls and adolescents.
Centro de Estudios y Fortalecimiento Comunitario Mano Vuelta A.C
Instituto Mexicano de Investigación de Familia y Población, A. C., Yo quiero Yo puedo
Observatorio de Mortalidad Materna en México
Unidad de Atención Sicológica, Sexológica y Educativa para el Crecimiento Personal, A.C.
Kinal Antzetik Guerrero
Fundación Mexicana para la Planeación Familiar, A.C. (MEXFAM)
Girls Not Brides: La Alianza Global para Terminar con el Matrimonio Infantil
No se metan con nuestras hijas
CIPE: Centro de Investigaciones para la Equidad Política Pública y Desarrollo.
Secretaría de Asuntos Internacionales del Consejo Nacional Juvenil de Ciencia y Humanidades
Centro de Apoyo Solidario Documentación y Estudio AC
Colectiva Feminista MAPAS
Colectivo Arcoíris de Esperanzas
Las Hermilas Feministas
Asociación de mujeres indígenas y afromexicanas radicadas en Acapulco
Centro de Atención a la Mujer Trabajadora
Asociación de mujeres indígenas y afromexicanas radicadas en Acapulco
Colectivo Las Constituyentes MX Feministas.
Frente Progresista Guerrerense
Grupo Feminista Ocho de marzo Chihuahua
Arthemisas por la Equidad, A.C.
Elige Red de Jóvenes por los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos A.C.
Coordinadora Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas CONAMI
Colectivo Yehcoa Um
Colectivo Juvenil Intercultural Nuestras Voces
Gran Consejo de la Sierra Taŕahumara A.C
Organización Nación Purhépecha Zapatista
Red de Abogadas y Promotoras Indígenas por una Vida Libre de Violencia en Michoacán
Cochitlehua Centro Mexicano de Intercambios A.C.
Lxs chicxs de laVanda
Red Nacional de Abogadas Indígenas RAI
In the time it has taken to read this article 63 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 2 seconds