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Some didn’t even have their periods yet. Others wish they had continued their studies. Most probably didn’t know that marriage shouldn’t be an option at their age. In Colombia, one in five young people between 15 and 19 got married in 2020, 20%. And one in 50 did so under the age of 14. So he throws it Situational analysis of child marriage and early unions in Colombia (2010-2020)a Unicef study that brings together data from local organizations and governments, national surveys and the organization’s own interviews.
Although the report does not provide absolute numbers, based on the country’s latest official population figures, this would mean that in 2020, just over 375,000 girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 19 were married, and more than 31 718 between the ages of 10 and 14, an age at which marriage is not yet legal in this country. This Tuesday, on the International Day of the Girl Child, Unicef published this study, which reveals the prevalence of a harmful practice for children, but in some cases approved by justice (from the age of 14 with parental consent). And the trends have hardly changed in the last 25 years. In Colombia and five other countries in the region – Anguilla, Argentina, Cuba, Guyana and St Kitts and Nevis – children under the age of 14 can marry with parental permission.
In Colombia, seven legislative initiatives have been introduced in the past 14 years that seek to remove the marriage law exception from the civil code that allows early unions with the permission of the legal guardians of minors. But no one has come forward relying on the “freedom of recognition” of adolescents, said Andrea Tague, Unicef’s gender officer, at the launch of this study, produced in collaboration with the UN Population Fund and Plan International.
While there may be agreement, experts say child marriage does not exist based on the agency of minors, who are separated from their partners for an average of six to 10 years, according to the report. “The lack of age symmetry also leads to a hierarchy of power,” Tagu said. “Talking about freedom causes this form of child abuse to continue to be normalized,” he added. Worldwide, the number of women and girls married before the age of 18 reaches 650 million; 60 million of them live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Between January 1, 2019 and July 31, 2022, more than 400 administrative processes were opened to allow the early reunification of children in the country, according to the statements of Andres Camelo, deputy director in charge of the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare, ICBF . “In the majority of cases, they are minors. We also register a greater number of acts of violence against them after marriage,” he pointed out. According to the National Population and Housing Census in 2018, about 340,083 girls (8.6%) and 133,293 boys (3.2%) were married or married. “This is violence that cannot be separated from gender,” Teague insisted.
Mothers before they were women
Another example of this practice affecting girls is teenage pregnancy. According to Vital Statistics data from the Colombian statistics department DANE, between 2010 and 2021, 1,137,796 births to girls and adolescents under the age of 19 in a union or marriage and another 422,104 births to single girls were registered. Among girls between 10 and 14 years, 65,959 pregnancies were added. According to family and cultural mandates—especially in indigenous communities—the age of early marriage and union is tied to first menstruation, while for men marriages begin when they start work.
“Until the fifth grade I did it, that’s how I did it, until the age of 11, I already gave up, I said: “I’m not going to study anymore. Because, really, why should I study if I’m going to raise children, if I’m going to be a mother, if I’m going to have a husband. So…” This is one of the many testimonies collected by the investigation that show how dropping out of school is usually a cause as well as a consequence of early unions. In Colombia, the highest dropout rates are seen in the basic levels of secondary education , which coincides with the ages at which there is a higher incidence of these practices. However, education can also be a solution. According to UNESCO, if all girls completed primary school, child marriage would decrease by 14%. And if all completed high school, 64 % will drop sharply.
The consequence of girls being forced to prepare their clothes is sometimes the first domino. It is usually followed by other violence, such as domestic violence and gender-based violence. 64 percent of women ages 15 to 49 who married early reported psychological abuse and 31.9 percent reported physical abuse, according to the National Demographic and Health Survey. “This is a public health issue,” said Laura Pabon, director of social development for the National Planning Department. “And it’s a cross-cutting issue that particularly affects girls from rural areas and the poorest.” This phenomenon feeds and sustains many other inequalities,” he assured.
Rural areas are usually the common denominator. Vichada (5.3%), Amazonas (4.3%), Chocó (4.2%) and La Guajira (3.9%) are the departments where more girls under 14 are more often found age forced to marry. For those between 15 and 19, the departments with the highest prevalence are Vichada (29.8%), Magdalena (24.5%), Arauca (24.0%), Cesar (23.8%) and La Guajira (23 .2%). In these regions, with huge levels of inequality and poverty, there are other threats to children, such as armed conflict and drug trafficking. Economic deprivation in the family and the coercion of armed men often cause these teenagers to drop out of school and become housewives and mothers before their time.