“Your voice matters” claims U-Report El Salvador’s slogan. And in fact, it mattered. On 16 August, Parliamentarians from El Salvador Legislative Assembly unanimously approved reforming the Family Code to ban child marriage.
With the reform of the Family Code, the minimum age for marriage is now established at 18 years old for men and women, without exception.
The reform was passed after months of debates within the Legislative Commission for Family, Children, and Adolescents. UNICEF together with UNFPA and UN Women accompanied the process, providing technical assistance, facilitating exchange of experiences with other countries in the region, promoting the participation of children and adolescents through the U-Report platform, and disseminating the analysis of survey results.
70% of the U-Reporters stated that they knew a girl who was married, was pregnant or had children, and 90% indicated that forcing girls to get married or becoming mothers at an early age is a violation of their rights.
The voice of children and adolescents was key during the deliberation at the Legislative Assembly and their inputs served to enhance the legislative debate. Their strong rejection of child marriage, early unions, and adolescent pregnancies also help mobilize civil society and the population at large.
Prior to the reform, article 14 of the Family Code provided that girls, regardless of their age, could marry if they were pregnant or had a child. In practice, this provision only favored perpetrators of sexual abuse, giving them the opportunity to evade the penal system by marrying their victims and perpetuate the cycle of impunity. El Salvador is amongst the countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage and early unions (29%) in the Latin American region. The 2014 National Health Survey (MICS) revealed that 29% of women between 20 and 49 years old had married before turning 18.
The prohibition of child marriage in El Salvador represents a huge advance for the protection of children and adolescents from violence, and an important step towards the harmonization of the national legislation with international human rights standards. The child marriage ban is also a clear example of how the voice of children and adolescents can have a positive impact on the decision-making process of a country.