By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Child marriage is widely accepted in Brazil, where girls seek older husbands to escape from sexual & other violence in the home, or because of teenage pregnancies or the lack of job opportunities, according to new research.
There has been scant research in Brazil on child marriage, & little has been done to tackle it, researchers from Plan International, Brazil's Federal University of Para & the gender equality charity Promundo said.
p> "Child marriage in Brazil is very normalized & accepted," said Alice Taylor, lead author of the report, whose researchers say it is the first study of its kind in Brazil.
Brazil is ranked fourth in the world in the number of girls married to or living with a partner by the age of 15, with 877,000 women aged 20 to 24 reporting they were married by 15, according to a Brazilian government census in 2010.
Legally, Brazilians can marry at 16 if both parents consent, or earlier in certain circumstances such as pregnancy.
The researchers examined child marriage in the two states with the highest prevalence of the practice in the country – the northern state of Para, & Maranhao in the northeast.
"Thereâ€™s an assumption … that child marriage … happens only in the most remote & rural areas of Brazil. ButÂ the research shows it happens alsoÂ in urban areas & in state capitals, like Belem & Sao Luis," Taylor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.
Child marriage in Brazil & across Latin America is "mostly informal & consensual," unlike South Asia & sub-Saharan Africa which have a "more ritualized & formal nature of the practice", the report found.
In Brazil it is fueled by sexual & other violence at home, often at the hands of relatives & stepfathers, which drives girls to seek refuge with older men outside the family, Taylor said.
"Child marriage is an expression of a girl's limited opportunities in terms of education & employment. They obtain married based onÂ an expectationÂ that their life will be better & that they will have more independence, & that expectation is usually unfulfilled."
Researchers interviewed government officials, men married to girls, & girls aged 12 to 18 married to or living with men who were on average nine years older.
They found that pregnant girls can come under pressure from relatives to obtain married to protect the family's reputation & in the hope of receiving more financial support from the child's father.
"My mum thought it was a satisfactory idea to marry, to resolve it (the pregnancy), to avoid the gossip that would have happened," a 15-year-old pregnant girl who had married a man aged 20, was quoted as saying in the report.
Researchers moreover interviewed men aged 25 to 60 who are married to or live with girls.
"For a man,Â the responses we most often heardÂ were desire to marry a young girl because she is easier to controlÂ or because of a belief that younger girls are more attractive," Taylor said.
Efforts to stem child marriage have largely focused on sub-Saharan Africa & South Asia, where it is most prevalent, & have ignored Latin America, the report said.
Early marriage makes it more likely that girls will drop out of school, & campaigners say it moreover increases the risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse & death in childbirth.
Child marriage moreover affects a country's overall development, a problem that will be highlighted this year when the United Nations finalizes its sustainable development goals at the end of the year.
Stopping child marriage & forced marriage is one of the proposed development goals.
(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Tim Pearce. Reuters Messaging: Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, womenâ€™s rights, corruption & climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
BrazilThomson Reuters FoundationChild marriageAlice Taylor