On December 5, in collaboration with the CAMY Fund, we held a webinar to talk about early unions in Latin America. Two of our members in the region participated, SENDAS from Ecuador and the Observatorio de Muerte Materna from Mexico. We discussed the prevalence of the practice in the region and the factors that contribute to it, as well as the kinds of public policies that are required in response. We wanted to reflect together on the phenomenon of early unions in the Latin American context, the state of the evidence in the region, and to agree what we know and still don’t know about the subject.
The evidence presented shows that early unions in Latin America, as in other regions of the world, are strongly linked to marginalization, gender violence, and teenage pregnancy. Adolescent pregnancy is a major public health and human rights problem in Latin America, with many countries in the region having very high rates of adolescent fertility. In Mexico, for example, almost a fifth of all births are to pregnant teenagers - twice the global average. Adolescent pregnancy in the region as a whole is frequently not associated with minors who are enjoying their sexuality with partners of their own age and choice, but is often the result of violence, sexual coercion, and harmful practices such as child marriage and early unions. A significant proportion of Mexican adolescents in union reported that they did not give their consent to enter into the union. Adolescent birth rates in the region are higher in places where unions or child marriage is prevalent and these, in turn, are related to conditions of poverty and marginalization.
As in other regions, laws will not be enough to end child marriage or early unions. It will also require long-term sustainable efforts, including initiatives to empower adolescents, involve their families and communities, and increase access to sexual and reproductive health services and formal and informal education.
Presenters and resources:
Diana Reartes of IDEAS CHieltik of Chiapas, Mexico, presented the findings from participatory research with indigenous youth in the highlands of Chiapas.
Fernanda Díaz de León, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at IPAS Mexico presented the results of an investigation on child pregnancy and sexual violence.
Mary Cabrera, Executive Director of Sendas Ecuador, presented the findings of an analysis of the costs of prevention versus prevention of adolescent care in Ecuador.
Hilda Argüello, from the Observatory of Maternal Death in Mexico, presented the methodology for monitoring public policy in maternal health and sexual reproductive health. This work offers a mechanism for monitoring public expenditure.
Margaret Greene from Greeneworks reflected on what we know and where we are in the debate in the Latin American region, with a view, above all, on the normative side of early unions and the concepts we are using.