COVID-19: latest news and resources on child marriage and COVID-19

Reclaiming space: COVID-19, the girls of Guatemala and our collective

A young woman takes part in a march organised by the Mesa Niña to commemorate the International Day of the Girl in Guatemala in 2019. Photo: Karla Morales

The first case of COVID-19 in Guatemala was reported on 13 March 2020. Since then, the spread of coronavirus has accelerated, and the government has put in place – and later relaxed – protocols for physical distancing, working from home and national and international travel restrictions. This has created additional risks for girls, including child, early and forced marriage and unions (CEFMU) and adolescent pregnancies. In response, we have implemented new communication and technology strategies, reorienting our work in order to put these issues back in the public and political eye during the process of building a “new normal.”

Our fear is that, if the underlying inequalities that cause CEFMU – including gender-based violence and girls’ exclusion from basic services – are not addressed, the current humanitarian event could lead to an increase in CEFMU in the medium and long term.

Our objective is to provide evidence-based information to decision-makers and communities so we can attend to their immediate needs and advise them along the way.

About the Committee for Girls and Adolescents (Mesa Niña)

The Mesa Niña is a collective that works to promote the rights of girls and adolescents in Guatemala. The group was formed with individual members and representatives from national and international grassroots and youth organisations in 2012. It was created within the framework of the resolution declaring 11 October as the International Day of the Girl and is reinforced by the approval of the operative paragraph that holds the nation of Guatemala to making space for girls on our country’s political agenda.

Over the last eight years, Mesa Niña has worked to raise the voices of girls and adolescents in Guatemala, and to promote structural changes that benefit their development and life projects. We monitor compliance with the political agreements that guarantee this overarching goal, while also basing our work on what these girls and adolescents tell us is valuable in their own contexts. This is how CEFMU became one of our strongest pillars of action in political advocacy. We have organised meetings with members of congress, held press conferences, run campaigns and even organised walks to the State institutions responsible for overseeing this agenda to make this issue – which affects thousands of girls and adolescents in our country and which is currently largely ignored – visible.

Working in difficult times, looking to the future

We have the experience and the will to adapt to the current situation to make sure girls and adolescents are not left behind during the COVID-19 response and recovery period. Our collective understands the challenges of working in lockdown and the difficulties of providing follow-up from a distance, but we also see opportunities. We have adapted to the new landscape, adopting new strategies and tools such as forums, trainings, meetings, and even the remote and virtual gathering of information.

We have reactivated the #LibreParaCrecer (Free to Grow) campaign to create visibility around the ways girls and adolescents have been particularly affected by the pandemic, shared in their own words. We developed the online conversation Desde nuestras voces: niñas y adolescentes en el COVID-19 (In our voices: Girls and adolescents during COVID-19) with three young spokespeople from our programme to hear their perspectives on lockdown and the prevention of infection.

We firmly believe that it is better to listen before acting, and that is what we are doing. In our collective, we aim to reclaim spaces and, in doing so, to overcome this crisis and make progress on what’s really important: the lives of girls and adolescents in Guatemala.