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  • Women participate in a commemoration event for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in San Salvador, El Salvador.

    Women participate in a commemoration event for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in San Salvador, El Salvador. | Photo: Reuters

Activists argue that the rule is often abused to protect sexual assailants from criminal prosecution.

El Salvador lawmakers voted unanimously Thursday to abolish a controversial 23-year-old law that allowed men to marry underage girls they had impregnated.

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It is illegal for people under the age of 18 to marry in the Central American country, but the legislation in force since 1994 allowed underage girls who are pregnant to wed with parental approval. 

Activists argue that the rule is often abused, particularly in poor, rural areas, where shamed families marry off their daughters to their alleged rapists so they will not be forced to bring up the child alone. 

Congress removed this part of its family code, although the legal age for marriage remains unchanged.

"The current code implies the legal possibility of pregnant girls and adolescents marrying their sexual aggressor, which allows the application of the same legal system to prolong the violation of rights," the new text said.

In El Salvador, there are more than 22,000 minors who are married or cohabiting, according to government data.

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, estimates that there were more than 25,000 births by underage mothers in 2015.

“This reform is an important element to begin to generate a change of conduct,” said UNICEF's Maria de Mejia. 

“This is a cultural question that has roots in the discriminatory, patrimonial practices facing girls in … El Salvador.”

Despite this, El Salvador still has one of the strictest abortion laws in the world. Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances since 1998, with no exceptions, even in the case of rape, or where the woman's life is at risk.


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