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GUATEMALA
No future for girls
Latinamerica Press
11/8/2013
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One in five births is to a teenage mother.

Recently published statistics show an alarming increase in teenage pregnancies in the Central-American state of Guatemala where according to the government every fifth child is the child of an underage mother. Data provided by the Reproductive Health Observatory show that in 2012, 26 percent of children were born by girls under the age of 19 at the time.

Juan Enrique Quiñónez, specialist in youth and adolescents of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) adduces article 81 of the civil code as one reason for this development as it allows marriages with the girl's consent from the age of 14 onwards. Under the pretext of such legal marriages crimes of sexual violence are committed, while cases in which children are conceived before the girl's fourteenth birthday also go unpunished. “The matter is even more severe than the numbers tell us”, Quiñónez stated and added “We have to revise the civil code, it contains a lot of articles which violate the rights of women and children”.

Zulma Zubillaga, head of the Department Against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Human Trafficking (SVET), drew attention to the fact that these young mothers have no choice but to dedicate themselves to their babies although they might not have wanted to have children at so early an age.

“It is a model of exclusion which repeats itself and in which the chances of the girl to plan her own life are almost annulled. It is violating her human rights,” she said.

Mothers aged between 10 and 14
Especially worrying is the rising number of girls under the age of 14 who give birth although sexual intercourse with under-14-years-olds constitutes a sex crime in Guatemala. Between January and July 2013 were registered 2,906 cases of these very early pregnancies.

Leonel Dubón, director of The Childhood Refuge Association, stressed the fact that victims of sexual violence are younger and younger, while such crimes are often committed by family members. He pointed out that in 90 percent of the cases they work with in the refugee centre girls are raped by someone close to them, as for example fathers, step-fathers, granddads, uncles and cousins adding thus to the trauma of sexual violence the issue of incest.

The Guatemalan government started to take action to remedy this situation.  On Oct. 11, during the International Day of the Girl Child proclaimed by the United Nations last year, representatives of the ministries of Health, Education, Culture, Social Development among others signed the national plan of pregnancy prevention in girls and teenagers which aims at reducing pregnancy rates by 5 percents within the next 5 years and includes governmental efforts to draw attention to the matter via sex education as well as information campaigns concerning sexual violence and abuse. According to SVET, the focus of the government's program lies especially on preventing pregnancies in under 14 year old girls.
—Latinamerica Press.


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