COSTA RICA NEWS marriage between a 15 year old girl and a 55 year old man is part of the reality of “improper marriages” that are within the laws of Costa Rica.
In a matter of minutes, with a couple of signatures, any girl reaching the age of 15 can legally become a married woman. In fact, in the past eight years, the Registro Civil (Registry) has recorded 13.700 marriages of women under the age of 18, to older men.
For many, getting married is a way out of poverty, leaving behind an overcrowded home situation and extreme poverty, not knowing what the marriage really means, which most likely results in her leaving the education system. Some become children victims of violence and abuse.
The situation has led to the drafting of a bill (Ley 19.337) to amend the Family Code (Codigo Familia) which would prohibit marriages under the age of 18, that is ending marriages of girls (and boys) between the ages of 15 and 17, that is now legal.
The bill also calls for an amendment to the Penal Code (Codigo Penal in Spanish) to change the immunity protection to 18 years of age for the crime of sex with minors. For clarity, currently, an adult (older man) having sex with a girl between the ages of 15 and 17 is not a crime if they are married to each other.
“Improper marriages are acceptable. There is a double legal standard because, firstly, we work against teen pregnancy, and secondly, child marriage with 15 year old girls, is accepted,” family court judge Maureen Solis, told La Nacion.
The most vulnerable sector of the society are the indigenous girls from rural areas, where the incidence of improper unions, in particular with foreign nationals, is higher than in the rest of the society. Many of these girls don’t even finish primary school.
Milena Grillo, director of the Paniamor organization, stressed the urgency in the law reform. “We have no qualms in saying that under the age of 18 you cannot drive or vote, but no obstacles to get married. There is no effective protection for the rights of minors,” said Grillo.
“Such relationships are abusive and should not be permitted … we live in a perverse social logic that operates under a patriarchal logic,” said Eugenia Salazar, Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence prosecutor.
The report, “Improper Unions and Pregnancy in Childhood and Adolescence in Costa Rica’ (Spanish: Uniones impropias y embarazo en la niñez y adolescencia en Costa Rica) notes that nine out of 100 girls have been in some type of conjugal relationship.
From 2006 to date, 44.449 girls between the age of 11 and 17 years of age have become mothers.