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The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women supports critical programs and services to make the world a safer place for women and girls. In this photo, Irma Ralac Cux from Guatemala is one of the Mayan girls who benefits from the work of the Trust Fund.
Rajesh Krishnan/UN Trust Fund
Girls & Women

Women and Girls Are Putting an End to Child Marriage in Guatemala

It was news that may have slipped under the radar for many in the busy news cycle of 2017. But in August of last year, Guatemala became the fourth Latin American country to ban child marriage outright, getting rid of a loophole that had allowed girls as young as 16 to marry with a judge’s permission. 

At the forefront of this fight? Women and girls. 

Take Action: Stand with Sonita: Tell World Leaders to End Child Marriage

Now, these same women are working to change attitudes about child marriage in rural communities where the practice remains common. Women-led organizations such as Colectivo Joven, Asociación Coincidir, and Abriendo Oportunidades are ensuring that this new law extends to the country’s most vulnerable girls, according to an article that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor

“We are told … that we are not going to study because we were born to be in the house, to have children, to get married,” Patricia Rossibel Cortéz Jiménez, a mentor for young girls at the Colectivo Joven (Youth Collective), told CSM. 

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Colectivo Joven, founded in 2000, brings sexual education to rural youth in an effort to stem “child abuse, sexual violence, and machismo,” according to its site

Read More: Guatemala Charges Officials Over Orphanage Fire That Killed 41 Girls

It’s not the only organization working to expand access to education for young girls. A similar program called Abriendo Oportunidades (Opening Opportunities) has shown positive results at lowering rates of child marriage and child pregnancy, according to CSM. 

In Guatemala, only 45% of girls were enrolled in secondary school in 2016, making them vulnerable to child marriage. 

Girls who participated in the Abriendo Oportunidades program were more than 30% more likely to attend secondary school, according to Girls Not Brides, an advocacy organization focused on ending child marriages. Only 3% of girls who participated in the program were married before the age of 18, in comparison to more than one in three nationwide. 

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

Guatemala is not the only Latin American country to ban child marriage outright in 2017. It was joined by El Salvador, which also banned the practice completely in August; Honduras, which did so in July; and the Dominican Republic, which banned it in May.  

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including goal number five: gender equality. You can join us and call on world leaders to end child marriage here

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“For too long, [Latin America] has dragged its feet over issues related to violence against women and harmful practices such as child marriage,” Emma Puig de la Bella Casa, Plan International’s Head of Gender Equality in Latin America, told Relief Web. “A wave of optimism is spreading across Latin America, where we are steadily moving girls’ rights up the international agenda.” 

But as the case of Guatemala shows, it requires more than just laws to make this change. 

“It is not that there isn't anybody else doing this, but we have to have initiative to do it in our own municipalities, in the communities,” a mentor in the Colectivo Joven told CSM. “[I]t is why we keep on going.”