Informing legislative change to prohibit child marriage in Peru

In Peru, longitudinal evidence and policy influencing by Young Lives have directly informed legislative change to prohibit and eliminate marriage with minors under the age of 18.

Government records in Peru registered 4,357 child marriages between 2013 and 2022; 98.4% of these occurred between girls aged 11 to 17 and adult men. In 2020, a peak of 845 child marriages were recorded.

In addition to formal marriages, young girls may also be vulnerable to informal unions and cohabitation, a practice that is relatively common in Peru. While specific numbers are difficult to ascertain, the most recent national census in Peru, carried out in 2017, estimated that 1.9% of children aged between 12 and 17 years were in a union; this equates to 56,065 children, the vast majority of whom are girls.

Legislative change in Peru to prohibit and eliminate any possibility of marriage with minors under the age of 18 was approved by Congress on 2 November 2023 and put into effect by Government promulgation on 25 November 2023. Prior to the new legislation, Article 42 of Peru’s Civil Code permitted adolescents to marry from the age of 14 under certain conditions, with consent from at least one parent, despite the minimum legal age of marriage being 18 years for girls and boys. 

This change in the law has the potential to protect thousands of young girls from child marriage – and to discourage informal unions and cohabitation with minors – particularly vulnerable girls growing up in poor and marginalised households, and among indigenous communities. It will also provide the opportunity for girls who were married as minors to have their marriages annulled.

Young Lives evidence

Young Lives longitudinal data has generated in-depth findings on the determinants and consequences of early marriage through following the lives of 12,000 young people in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam since 2001. Their mixed-methods evidence shows that early marriage and becoming a parent during adolescence corresponds to significantly worse life outcomes for both young women and their children. 

Girls who marry early are less likely to complete secondary education, with reduced opportunities to get a decent job and gain financial independence, and lower sense of well-being and empowerment. Early marriage is also closely linked to early pregnancy, with children born to young mothers under the age of 18 typically having a lower birthweight and shorter height-for-age. Our evidence shows that girls from poor households, especially where there has been an absent parent for a prolonged period, are most at risk of early marriage. Similarly, girls with low self-efficacy and low educational aspirations, and those with low school attendance and poor school performance are also at higher risk of early marriage and parenthood.

Evidence from the Young Marriage and Parenthood Study (YMAPS), a collaboration between Young Lives, Child Frontiers and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), shows that poverty and entrenched gender inequality are key drivers of child marriage. Social and cultural norms that discriminate against girls and women also undermine opportunities for girls, limiting their educational and job prospects. Girls who marry early typically have limited knowledge about or access to sexual and reproductive health care and services, often leading to early pregnancies, and are at much greater risk of physical and psychosocial violence from their partners.

Young Lives influence

Young Lives research and policy findings have directly informed both government and public debate on the prevalence and impact of early and child marriage in Peru over many years. Working at the senior level, Young Lives has provided evidence and advice through numerous presentations, briefings, research and policy outputs to representatives of key government ministries – including the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP), Ministry of Education (MINEDU) and Ministry of Health (MINSA) – alongside international organisations such as UNFPA and UNICEF, NGOs such as Plan International, and a range of leading academics.

Notably, Young Lives evidence was directly cited in the Parliamentary Bill presented to Congress on 29 September 2022, at the initiative of Congresswoman Flor Pablo. In December 2022, the Young Lives Peru team (Vanessa Rojas and Alan Sanchez) were invited by Congresswoman Pablo to present Young Lives findings on early marriage and teenage pregnancy as part of an evidence roundtable discussing the related bill. 

"Young Lives longitudinal evidence on the causes and consequences of child marriage in Peru has been pivotal for driving this important legislative change," Congresswoman Pablo said. "By giving voice to the lived experiences of girls and young women, the study has enabled a much more in-depth understanding of how poverty and entrenched gender norms continue to drive child marriage, particularly among remote and indigenous communities."

High-profile media coverage

Young Lives findings from the roundtable were disseminated in a high-profile article published in Congreso de la Republica on 6 December 2022. Congresswomen Pablo highlighted the vulnerability of girls from poor households, particularly those from indigenous communities, where the highest number of child marriages are currently registered.

Wider media coverage citing Young Lives evidence over recent years has included numerous articles in the national press and high-profile blogs by leading academics and commentators, including in La República and more recently in El Comercio.

Looking forward

While the change in Peru’s legislation is a very important step in protecting young girls from child marriage, Young Lives evidence shows that legislation alone is not enough, as discussed in a recent Young Lives Peru article in El Comercio (authored by Vanessa Rojas), and highlighted in recent work in India. Tackling the underlying causes of early marriage and parenthood involves addressing a range of factors associated with poverty and inequality, and addressing persistent social norms which discriminate against girls and young women, particularly among poor and marginalised communities. Effective approaches need to respond to local circumstances and further research is required to ensure that targeted interventions are underpinned by robust evidence of what works in different contexts.

Importantly, ensuring that a diversity of voices and lived experiences inform changes in legislation and related policy implementation is vital to deliver lasting positive change. A new multisectoral national plan to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy, a consequence of child marriage and early cohabitation, is currently being developed in Peru. Ensuring this is successfully implemented will require strong political will and engagement across whole communities, including working with men and boys.

For further information on the Young Lives evidence and how it was referenced in the team’s engagement with the Peruvian Congress, access a longer version of this case study here.