Bolivia is a “lower-middle income country” where at least 40% of the citizens live under the national poverty line, with women and children being at the highest risk. Child marriage and unions closely associate with poverty due to the lack of education, job availability and food scarcity. It is an issue that affects all genders, but young women and girls often face more exposure due to the perceived socio-economic “benefits” that come with marrying off a daughter. The following are some facts about child marriage in Bolivia.
5 Facts About Child Marriage in Bolivia
- The Law: In Bolivia, 18 is the minimum legal age of marriage, but children as young as 16 can get married with their parent’s permission and consent. Around 20% of children below the age of 18 are either married or in a union and around 3% of children under the age of 16 are in a marriage. These numbers, however, don’t take into account the number of informal unions in the country. Poverty is a great indicator of the likelihood of child marriage in Bolivia. Children have little relative autonomy and their parents often make decisions regarding their marriage for them. For many parents, pushing child marriage is a means to escape poverty. They may receive a form of dowry for marrying off a child and/or feel some relief from having one less child to care for. According to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), some consider child marriage a “necessary means for survival, for both the family and child.”
- Girls are More Likely to Go into Marriage: Girls are at a higher risk for child marriage in Bolivia, and this is partly due to gender inequality and discrimination. Girls Not Brides reports that there is the belief that women are inferior to men and that women and girls should be submissive to men in the country. Nevertheless, Bolivia has the highest rate of child marriage among boys in the world, Save the Children reports. This is because most people view marriage as a stepping stone to power. There are certain positions that men can get only if they are married, and this motivates boys to go into child marriage in Bolivia.
- Population Growth and Poverty: High rates of child marriage and unofficial unions result in a higher population. Many families that come from child marriage live in poverty and rely on welfare from the government. Studies suggest that the cost of welfare in countries with high child marriage rates could reach up to $500 billion annually.
- Education Matters: Keeping children in school has positive impacts on reducing the rates of child marriage. The World Bank reports that each year of schooling a child gets, especially for girls, has a 5% points reduction in the likelihood of entering marriage before the age of 18. Ensuring adequate and available education to poor and rural communities could lower rates of child marriage in Bolivia and result in increased earnings potential. About 90% of girls in Bolivia complete lower secondary school, but the quality and accessibility aren’t standard across the country. Girls in rural communities are less likely to finish their secondary education. These communities also have the highest rate of child marriage.
- Government Intervention: The government aims to end child marriage and forced unofficial unions in Bolivia by 2030. It has been co-sponsoring the Human Rights Council resolution on child marriages and the U.N. General Assembly resolutions on child marriages since 2013. The government has also worked on providing comprehensive education and awareness about “principles of equality between men and women in marriage” in both Spanish and indigenous languages. There are ongoing efforts to provide better access and quality education to girls who are at the highest risk of child marriage in Bolivia. The Country Programme which ran from 2018 to 2022 focused on providing foundations in four output areas to enhance education and accessibility for rural and indigenous communities.
Bolivia made the greatest reduction in poverty in Latin America which, in turn, could help resolve the child marriage situation. The government’s plan to create a stronger education system with Spanish and local languages in rural and indigenous communities could also have a major impact on ending child marriage in the country. While child marriage is still a problem in Bolivia, organizations like the World Bank, UNICEF and Girls Not Brides continue to work toward bringing change in the country.
– Kathryn Kendrick