Forced Early Unions: A Reality that Touches Our Doors

November 14, 2016

Can you imagine what it would feel like to be forced to join or have a relationship with an adult?

In the world, many girls, adolescents, and young people are forced to marry. In fact, in some countries, this is more noticeable. In others, it goes unnoticed or is disguised.

Unfortunately, our culture is based on a way of life where adolescents, young people and women are discriminated against, and subjected to actions that violate their rights. They’re often forced to make decisions that they are not happy with, but “must do.”

In my country, El Salvador, this reality is disguised.

Forced marriage is a violation of human rights because it breaches the principles of free choice. Child marriage is considered a crime in my country because girls are not psychologically and physically prepared to take those responsibilities. They must live their childhood and fully enjoy their rights.

But what is actually happening, and why? There are many reasons why teenagers are forced to take this step, and with a person they do not want. There are disguises that our own society imposes. We observe the pressure from the home, where it is enforced that the girls find a man who “agrees” with them and has economic possibilities that can remove the whole family from poverty. It is very sad to observe cases in which very old men are looking for a girl to marry, convincing parents that it is the best option for their daughter, arriving with a suit, a car, and a roll of bills in a bag. I have always wondered,, “What is it that passes through the heads of these men and the  parents who accept?” Also, on many occasions the girls are already pregnant, and to avoid stigma or the marginalization of her and her family, she resorts to marriage, against her will.

In El Salvador, there are different instances of this occurring, and I want to share some that I know.

Clary, a 17-year-old girl who only lives with her father, did not have enough information about contraceptive methods. Because of this,, she is approximately seven months pregnant. When her family learned the news, they were outraged. In her community, she was treated as someone who had no value.  Her father, in an attempt to “save the honor of the family” organized a wedding quickly and without guests. Clary cried every night because of the decision.

Andrea is a 16-year-old girl who attends secondary school. She lives with her mother, who persistently pushes the idea of marrying an older man with a profession and money. Her mother discourages courtships Andrea has with others her same age, instead insisting that Andrea must think of her family, too, and not just herself.  

Fortunately, I have learned that girls have rights, that we can make our own decisions, and that we can change our reality. This is thanks to several training programs with Plan International, which have helped me grow as a person. I am willing to share knowledge about the reality of my country, and the difficulties that the girls face who live in my community and in my country.

I think that if we were all alert to the situations that can lead to early marriage because of outside pressures, we could put an end to this practice.  We must raise awareness. Girls are not a commodity that can easily be exchanged for a luxurious way of life. Some girls do not even have it in their life plan to marry, and why force them?, We must protect girls and enforce laws in place. Authorities:  don’t just ratify laws, but should ensure that they are fulfilled. Parents: protect your daughters from this abuse and sexual violence that is encompassing many communities. Girls should empower themselves, enforce their rights, take action on the issues and be successful agents of change.

Let’s not let others think and decide for us. We can do it. We must learn and take action.

Girls are capable of great things; we just have to overcome barriers.

Let’s change our reality, let’s change our world.