It’s tempting to think of child marriage as a bizarre ceremony arranged by distant family members and forced on girls in the middle of the night.
Although this sometimes does happen, child marriage and union are far more common than that. One in four girls is married by the age of 18 in 50 countries around the world. The true nature of child marriage is subtle, making it all the more insidious. Preventing child marriage, therefore, must happen at a personal level.
El Salvador is one of these countries where child marriage/union is commonplace – while it is typically not an arranged marriage, the abuse that a girl endures is no less damaging.
Carina’s* mother died a few years ago, and she is being raised by her grandfather and her grandfather’s wife Rosa* in their community in La Libertad. Like most mothers in the world (biological or not), Rosa wants nothing less than the best for her daughter.
But in La Libertad, it is easy for a girl to slip between the cracks.
Carina says, “I used to think it was normal for a 13-year-old girl to live with a man who is 25 or 30 – it happens all the time. He’d threaten her and bully her, and say, ‘If you don’t do it, I’ll do something bad to you or your family,’ so girls think they have to go live with him. We’re taught to put up with it."
Through the Because I am a Girl project, Carina learned that this abuse is not normal and can be prevented. What's more, she learned how to communicate with her peers and help girls who were falling into the trap of forced union.
“I’m learning that boys and girls both have value; we are equals. We should all work together to make a better life. And now I can help my friends who experience violence. I have one friend who came to me; she’s 15 years old and has a baby and lives with her boyfriend who is a lot older than she is. He was beating her, and she didn’t know what to do. She came to me, and I helped her to understand how to talk to him. I explained that they have to think about their baby boy. As he grows up he needs good role models; he can’t see his father beating his mother, because he’ll do that too. So she talked to her boyfriend, and he doesn’t hit her anymore.”
“Our house is like a clinic!” Rosa says. “We always have girls now coming to ask for advice, and we help them get out of bad relationships.”
“It’s true,” Carina agrees. “I wish I could tell all of the girls in my community, ‘We’re not less! Sometimes men look down on women, but we have to stand up and be confident. We’re worth it!’”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
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