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El Salvador strikes down part of family code permitting child marriage

[JURIST] The El Salvador Legislative Assembly [official website] unanimously voted [press release, Spanish] on Thursday to eliminate a law that allowed men to marry minors that they had impregnated. The legal age to marry in El Salvador was 18 even before this change. But, a 23-old exceptional rule allowed those under 18 to wed with parental consent. That exception has been widely abused [Reuters report], particularly in rural areas, where families have been marrying off daughters to their alleged rapists with an intention to protect the "family honor," and so that the girl would not have to care for the child on her own. The exception also protected rapists and other sex offenders from criminal prosecution. This change leaves the legal age of consent intact at 18, but strikes down the exception that allowed these "honor marriages." According to El Salvador government data, there are more than 22,000 minors who are married or co-habiting. UNICEF [child advocacy website] welcomed the change stating that the "reform is an important element to begin to generate a change of conduct ... This is a cultural question that has roots in the discriminatory, patrimonial practices facing girls" in El Salvador.

The issue of child marriage has been a matter of international concern for several years. In February, the Bangladesh Parliament passed revisions to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2017 [text, PDF], allowing girls under the age of 18 to be married [JURIST report] under "special circumstances." The revisions did not change the minimum marriage age requirements but instead, they designate a committee of local officials to review individual cases of underage marriage and determine whether they may be approved by the court. In July 2016, officials in Gambia and Tanzania banned the practice of child marriage [JURIST report]. In November 2015, the Guatemalan Congress approved legislation [JURIST report] to raise the legal age for marriage to 18. In April 2015, Malawi raised the legal age for marriage age to 18 [JURIST report] for both boys and girls. The move came after Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on Malawi to end the practice [JURIST report], detailing how child marriage exposes girls to domestic and sexual violence. In 2014, Bangladesh officials approved [JURIST report] the Child Marriage Prevention Act of 2014, requiring a two-year jail term for any person who marries a girl under the age of 18.

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