The Indigenous leaders fighting early marriage in Peru
By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, Nov 2 (EFE).- Every 10 minutes, a teenager is forced to become a mother in Peru, an occurrence that drives early marriages in the Andean country.
Early marriage is a common practice that is protected by law and native ancestral customs in Peru, forcing the new generations of Indigenous female leaders into a spiral of predicaments.
Merly Astorima, 26, is in charge of a women’s association in her native community in Ayacucho region. She walks several kilometers every day to teach bilingual intercultural education classes to children living in remote areas.
The young woman hopes to be the voice that “tries to change certain misconceptions” rooted in her community for centuries and “makes parents aware… that the decision to hand over their daughters to adults is wrong.”
“They think that by giving their daughters to someone who has farms (and) earns a large amount of money, they will get out of poverty, but no… that girl will be subjected to mistreatment and abuse,” Astorima tells Efe in an interview.
Astorima, together with 15 Indigenous leaders from different regions, recently traveled to the capital to urge the authorities to pass a bill to eliminate child marriage.
PROTECTED BY LAW
This initiative, promoted by congresswoman Flor Pablo Medina, seeks to regulate the minimum age of marriage in line with international standards for protecting the rights of children and adolescents.
Until 2018, adolescents could marry from the age of 16 years with the consent of at least one parent.
But Article 42 of the Civil Code was modified to establish 14 as the minimum age for marriage.
Some 85 marriages of children under the age of 16 have been registered in Peru over the past four years, according to official data.
On average, 10% of Peruvian women ages between 15 and 49 had their first marriage between 10 and 15 years old. This percentage is doubled among the Indigenous Amazon tribes.
The connection between child marriage and poverty is undeniable since a staggering 46% of adolescents aged 15 to 17 get married in the poorest communities and only 1% in other well-off areas.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), three out of four child marriages take place in poor households, six out of 10 teenagers suffer domestic violence, seven out of 10 come from rural areas and three out of 10 are illiterate.
Indigenous female leaders believe that the solution revolves around changing these harmful practices supported by social norms and the patriarchal system.
Agreements about child marriages are often made when a girl gets pregnant.
“He is supposed to be her rapist, but they put them together and fix it like that… Sometimes they negotiate (marriages), but that girl never receives what was agreed upon, her father does,” says Cusco leader Milagros Mamani, 28.
“Even if she doesn’t want to, she is afraid because her father is going to hit her or her future husband… people are going to look at her and speak badly about her and her family,” she adds.