In the bulk of Latin America and the Caribbean, a minor under 18 years of age can marry. In Chile, as in more than a dozen countries, it is allowed for a person to marry from the age of 16 with the authorization of the parents or legal guardians. The Constitution Commission of the Senate has unanimously approved this Tuesday the idea of legislating on the project that establishes the age of majority as an essential requirement to marry. If it goes ahead, the South American country would join others such as Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, which have eliminated this practice, classified as “harmful” by Unicef, which mainly affects girls.
A couple of weeks ago, the Chamber of Deputies gave the green light by a large majority (118 votes in favor, eight against and 17 abstentions) to modify the Civil Marriage Law. It is pending that the Government renew the extreme urgency of the bill so that it can be voted on in the Senate.
Unions of this type have been considerably reduced in recent decades in Chile (from 8,191 in 1990 to 25 in 2020). In the almost half a thousand weddings that have taken place since 2018, the average age of the women has been 16.9 years, and that of the men 23, although the range in their case reaches 38 years, according to the study Teenage marriage in Chile: a reality to eradicatepublished at the end of 2021 by the Observatory of Rights of the Ombudsman for Children.
The head of the department of legal reforms of the Ministry of Women, Camila de la Maza, appeared this Tuesday in defense of girls and adolescents. “The project establishes the most important sanction that the legal system in civil matters establishes: the non-existence of the link in the case of contracting it. We share that it is the correct sanction,” she maintained. The proposal would also allow people who were married before the age of 18 to request a divorce unilaterally, without having to prove the “cessation of cohabitation”.
The Ombudsman for Children welcomed progress in the elimination of adolescent marriage, echoing what has been advised for years by international organizations that protect the rights of minors. This practice generates situations of violence “in relationships marked by asymmetry, generating situations conducive to gender violence and also to school dropout,” said the Undersecretary for Children, Rocío Faúndez.
It is common for married minors, according to statistics handled by UNICEF, to become pregnant during adolescence, which “increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, both for them and for their children,” UNICEF warns. This practice can also “isolate girls from their family and friends, as well as restrict their participation in their community, so that their physical and mental well-being is seriously affected.”
The deputies who voted against the bill are, for the most part, members of the Republican Party, of the extreme right, and close to formations such as Vox, from Spain. “One wonders what is the issue and what is the conflict that we have behind here: the issue of consent. But it turns out that consent to have sex change operations, to have sexual activity, has been lowered more and more, exactly by those who are on the other side. Why don’t they agree on the extent to which a minor can give consent?” questioned the deputy Johannes Kaiser.
One of the goals set by the UN for 2030 is to end teenage marriage, a “violation of human rights”. The United Nations Human Rights Council published a report in 2014 on the prevention and elimination of early and forced child marriage, arguing that the minors involved are often the object of “physical, psychological, economic and sexual violence, as well as restrictions”. to their freedom of movement.
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