The Independent reported this week that Honduras has moved to ban all child marriages, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to get married, with no exceptions. This is a great step forward for a country where one in four children are married before the age of 18. The Independent also states that child marriage usually involves marrying a younger girl to an older man and is often driven by poverty and cultural acceptance. This removes opportunities for girls to continue education or escape the poverty cycle. The Independent reported that most Latin American countries ban marriage until 18 years of age; however, there are generally exceptions where there is parental consent. This is an important exception as parents in these countries may be the ones arranging the marriage in order to alleviate some of their own poverty. The law in Honduras removes this exception, thereby safeguarding children from this situation.
Belinda Portillo, Honduras’ Country Director of the charity Plan International has said that “the fight against child marriage is a strategic way of promoting the rights and empowerment of women in various areas, such as health, education, work, freedom from violence.” Portillo also states that Honduras has “made history” with the passing of this law. Human Rights Watch suggests that this is a leading move for a country from a region where child marriages are common, but often not as publicised as in Asia or Africa. UNICEF reports that in five Latin American countries, at least 30 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. Human Rights Watch reiterates the points made by Portillo in suggesting that this leads to girls being trapped in a cycle of poverty and not completing their education.
Human Rights Watch has stated that this is a great step forward by Honduras, but the real challenge may come from enforcement of the new law. For a country where child marriages are culturally accepted, it can be difficult to overcome tradition, especially in communities which still adhere to many traditional ways of life. However, this is a promising move by Honduras and helps to highlight the issue for Latin America. The first step is to get the issue in the public sphere, then legislate, then enforce. Honduras is leading the way with the first two steps achieved, and this will hopefully influence other states to follow suit. The impact of child marriages on children, especially girls, can extend throughout their lives and potentially into the lives of their children as the same practices continue. Breaking this vicious cycle will help to lift communities out of poverty and raise the standard of living for children in the region. Laws banning child marriages, especially with no exceptions, promise a new life for the children of the country.
The wider implications of child marriages are important to consider when evaluating the severity of the issue. Ending child marriages is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 because of the significance of these issues for young people. If children do not have to marry at a young age, they are more likely to complete their education and there is a greater chance they can escape the cycle of poverty. There may still be concerns about the enforcement of the new law in Honduras, but it is definitely a positive step in the right direction.