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El Salvador Scraps Controversial Law That Allows Men to Marry Underage Girls They Have Impregnated

Flickr/Cam Ventoza

Lawmakers in El Salvador have voted to scrap a controversial law that allows men to marry underage girls they have impregnated. 

While the legal age limit for marriage in El Salvador is 18, an exception was made that allowed underage girls who were pregnant to get married with their parents’ approval. 

But the law, brought in in 1994, has been slammed by critics for allowing sex offenders to escape justice. 

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Activists and the government argued that the law, which was voted out on Thursday, is often abused and leaves young girls and their babies vulnerable to violence. 

It is particularly an issue in poor, rural areas, where families marry off their daughters to their alleged rapists so that the girl won’t have to bring up the child alone, reported Reuters

Just last month, judges ruled in favor of the marriage of a 12-year-old girl and her 34-year-old rapist, according to a report by Latino USA

The girl reportedly gave birth in February as a result of the rape, and the man was sent to prison. But the girl’s mother later spoke out in favor of the rapist, saying he would be able to provide milk and diapers for the baby. The judges used the mother’s argument to revoke the arrest of the man, and approve the marriage. 

While magistrates reportedly acknowledged the possibility of rape in the girl’s case, they decided the right to conserve the family as a whole — the girl, her rapist, and the baby — surpassed the girl’s individual rights. 

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It is because of cases like this that the decision to abolish the “sexist” law has been well received by campaigners. 

“This reform is an important element to begin to generate a change of conduct,” said UNICEF’s Maria de Mejia. 

“This is a cultural question that has roots in the discriminatory, patrimonial practices facing girls in El Salvador.” 

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More than 22,000 minors are currently married or cohabiting in the country, according to El Salvador’s government data, while UNICEF estimates there were more than 25,000 births by underage mothers in 2015. 

The organisation Girls Not Brides says that 25% of girls in El Salvador are married before the age of 18.

El Salvador also tops the list of femicide in Latin America, with a rate of 8.9 homicides per 100,000 women, according to the latest report from Insight Crime, which uses data from 2012.