In Argentina, two-thirds of those under 18 who are married or living with a partner are female, whether children or adolescents, with their male partners on average at least 10 to15 years older, according to new research.
Around 230,000 girls are in this vulnerable situation, which is all too frequent but not mainly for questions of culture, habit or identity. The remaining third of underage marriages or partnerships are males with only a year or two of age difference in these cases.
A total of 4.7 percent of females in the 10 to 18 years age-group in Argentina are married or living with men who are almost double their age. The figures emerge from a research project of the Fundación para el Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM), directed by PERFIL’s Ombudsman for Gender Dr Mabel Bianco, which forms part of the foundation’s project “Matrimonios y Uniones Convivenciales en la Argentina.”
“Despite these striking figures, this is an invisible issue and that is because it has come to be taken naturally amid unchanging social and cultural factors. We are trying to analyse what could be the determining family factors favouring these unions to see how these situations can be prevented, ” explained Bianco, during a presentation of the study last week.
The report, carried out on the basis of 2010 census demographic data, analyses the relationship of these unions with key factors like school dropouts, teen mothers and increasing gender violence.
“Child marriage includes all formal or informal unions where one or both partners is under 18. It is forced if one or both do not freely consent. For those under 15, it is always forced because the capacity for consent is absent,” said Dr Bianco.
The analysis places Argentina in its regional context, bearing in mind that Latin America is the region where child marriages and cohabitation have grown fastest in recent years.
“The lack of official statistics on this situation in Argentina does not permit it to be made visible so that it is still not considered to be an issue in this country,” they explain.
By province, the research highlights that Misiones (7.2 percent), Chaco (6.9 percent) and Formosa (6.4 percent) head the number of underage girls and teen mothers married to or living with somebody, followed by Santa Fe and Entre Ríos (5.4 percent), Santiago del Estero and Corrientes (5.3 percent), Salta (five percent) and La Rioja (4.9 percent). In the provinces of Tucumán, Entre Ríos, Misiones and Chaco there are larger percentages of mothers aged under 20 who are already in cohabitation.
One of the conclusions of this study is that “child marriages and cohabitation are considered a private family matter. The existing cultural and ancestral mandates persist in many provinces while gender stereotypes contribute to these marriages or other forms of union at an early age being persistently seen as natural by society.”
“The reality of female children and adolescents being the victims of violence (migrants, indigenous, handicapped) must be analysed. While cultural and ethic factors influence the Northeast and the Northwest, it is difficult to know to what degree those factors continue weighing in other areas. Poverty is also a determining factor behind these unions or marriages,” assured Bianco.
Of the 688 calls which telephone line 144 received last year from girls under 18, half were for violencia exercised by past or present couples.