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Banning child marriage, Honduras leads Americas and EU

Lawmakers in Honduras have banned child marriage under the age of 18. Often caused by poverty, such arrangements usually involve older men taking teenage wives, risking girls' health and depriving them of education.

In a special session late Wednesday, the parliament in Honduras raised the minimum age of marriage to 18, overturning a previous law that had allowed minors to marry beginning at age 16 so long as they had their parents' approval. The bill was passed unanimously by 128 legislators from seven parties.

Belinda Portillo, of the children's charity Plan International, said Honduras had made history by passing the law in a country where one in four people marry before the age of 18. "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, Plan's Honduras country director, said in a statement released late Wednesday.

In Honduras, one in four girls aged 14 to 19 becomes pregnant at least once, and at least 40 percent of women have experienced gender-motivated violence, according to the United States Agency for International Development. The rate of femicide is 14.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the National Autonomous University of Honduras, with the majority of those representing girls, teenagers and younger women.

A global issue

Most Latin American countries ban marriage until 18, but many nonetheless allow such arrangements at a younger age with the permission of parents or judges. Campaigners have expressed optimism that other countries in Latin America might follow the example set by Honduras. Lawmakers in the Dominican Republic, which has the second highest rate of minor marriage in the region, are mulling proposed reforms to outlaw such arrangements, as is El Salvador..

Each year, more than 15 million girls worldwide enter into marriages before they turn 18, according to the campaign group Girls Not Brides. Such arrangements leave minors vulnerable to sexual and domestic abuse and early pregnancy. Childbirth complications have become the leading cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 globally.

The law passed in Honduras is stricter than those of most EU nations. Belgium has no minimum age if a court approves, the United Kingdom allows betrothals beginning at 16 with judicial or parental consent, and in Lithuania judges can sign off on marriages for girls younger than 15 if they are pregnant. The issue is hotly debated in Germany, but, for now, the law is that 16-year-olds can be married if the courts and their parents approve.

mkg/ng (EFE, Reuters, dpa)

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