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Organization of American States calls for action on child marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean

Inauguration of Luis Almagro as OAS Secretary General 2017 / OAS on Flickr

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, has called for urgent action to address child marriage in the Americas.

“This is an issue that we must address if girls and boys are to have the same access to development opportunities. […] We are losing entire generations to poverty, discrimination and violence.  We cannot close our eyes to this tragedy as the development of our society as a whole is undermined.”

The Secretary General recently met Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides, to discuss action in the region.

Child marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite global momentum on the issue, there is still a lack of visibility and awareness of child marriage in Latin America.

“Of the top 10 countries in terms of the number of girls married by 18, Brazil is #4 and Mexico is #8” – Heather Hamilton, Deputy Executive Director, Girls Not Brides

Historically, marriage in Latin America has been a way of acquiring security, prestige or power, and for many girls has become a common strategy for survival.

An exploratory study by Girls Not Brides points to the harmful consequences of child marriage and early unions, including: domestic violence, health complications from early sexual activity and pregnancy, and limited educational and employment opportunities – all of which perpetuate inequality and poverty among women and girls.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region in the world where child marriage and early unions are increasing. Without immediate action, 9.7 million girls will be affected by 2030 and the region will fail to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, especially goal 5 on gender equality.

How is the Organization of American States (OAS) tackling child marriage?

On November 29, 2016 the OAS hosted an international forum “Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Motherhood in the Americas” to identify what is known about child marriage in the region, establish priority areas for action, and define the role of the OAS. Recommendations focused on:

  • The importance of visibility and political engagement on the issue of child and forced marriage and union,
  • Strengthening data collection,
  • Legislative and public policy reform, and
  • Ensuring a coordinated and integrated response from the international community, governments, academia and civil society.

Moving forward, the OAS will work with Member States, key organisations and civil society to identify good practice and promising initiatives to help develop country-specific strategies addressing child marriage.

Under its mandate “More Rights for More People”, the OAS said it would continue raising the visibility of the issue and strengthening the political will in joining the global campaign to end child marriage.

Addressing the issue of child and forced marriage and union is a vital step toward breaking the cycle of poverty and discrimination in the Americas.

Sources and further information

This article is based on a press release issued by the Organization of American States on 13 April, 2017.