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In Nicaragua, Early Marriages & Teen Pregnancies Are Normal

Report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for the high level of “adolescent births,” and child marriage

Two pregnant teens. Photo: Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

18 de septiembre 2023

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Nicaragua is the country with the highest rate of teen births in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 85.6 such cases for every 1,000 adolescents, according to 2022 statistics published by the World Health Organization (WHO). This situation “concerns” the organizations of the United Nations, but it’s been “normalized” by the Ortega-Murillo government authorities.

The WHO data was cited in a report from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) entitled: “Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua.” The statistics indicate that complications from pregnancy and birth are “the principal cause of death among young women 15 – 19 years old in medium and low income countries.”


Because of this, the organization suggests that governments adopt legislative and political measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This isn’t happening in Nicaragua, which “could possibly represent a violation of a series of human rights for girls,” according to the OHCHR.

The Penal Code currently in force in Nicaragua, any sexual contact with a minor is considered a crime. However, in the face of thousands of child and teen pregnancies, the Ortega regime neither investigates nor sanctions the aggressors.

“There’s a normalization of the violence against girls and teens,” observes sociologist and feminist Maria Teresa Blandon.

Pregnant teens fill the State-run “Maternity houses”

“All of us in the feminist organizations know that the casas maternas [centers where pregnant women receive attention] in the country have been full of pregnant girls and teens. This government has normalized pregnancy in girls and teens and, including pregnancies resulting from rape,” Blandon affirmed.

“The Ministry of Health,” she continued, “merely assures that these kids are able to access a hospital to give birth, in order to prevent greater risks, because we all know that these are high risk pregnancies.”

According to the WHO statistics cited in the OHCHR report, in Nicaragua the Ministry of Health registered 37 maternal deaths in 2022 – 19% of them women under 20.

In addition, the report notes that Nicaragua has low rates of access to contraceptive methods.

According to Nicaragua’s National Institute of Information for Development, between 2020 and 2021 the number of teen pregnancies increased to 28,408, including cases of girls from 10 to 14.

Nicaragua’s public health policies “have no strategy aimed at preventing these pregnancies, and, as a result, there are also none for preventing sexual abuse and violence,” Blandon asserted.

Concern for adolescent marriages as well

Another expression of the multiple violations to girls’ human rights in Nicaragua are the early marriages. In 2021, the index registered 29 pregnant girls between ten and fourteen who were married. On a general level, there were 1,192 minors in common law marriages.

Nicaragua’s Family Code forbids marriage for those under 18, although there’s an exception for those between 16 and 18 who receive parental permission. The latter provision violates international norms.

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Child or teen marriages, “imply multiple human rights violations, and the data demonstrates insufficient progress toward Sustainable Development Objective 5 [gender equality],” warned the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, it “seriously limits” girls’ integral development, including in the educational and professional spheres.

Nicaragua continues to lack human rights guarantees for women and girls, who are not sufficiently protected from gender violence, including child marriage,” the report determined.

“The combined impact of the absolute ban on abortion and the high rate of early pregnancies in the country concerns the OHCHR, since these factors lead to unsafe abortions and the death of pregnant women and girls,” the authors stressed.

Former Health Minister justifies teen marriage

In Maria Teresa Blandon’s opinion, this situation continues because within the regime, “there’s no understanding of the problem.” She recalled that Sonia Castro, Nicaraguan Minister of Health from 2019-20, once commented in a public conference held on the campus of the National Autonomous University in Managua, “that it was normal, that it was part of the Nicaraguan culture that girls and very young kids should get together with older men.”

The sociologist noted that very early marriages are “an old practice” in Nicaragua, but this isn’t a justification, since they’re also “associated with violence.”

“Experience tells us that these kids go on to become near-slaves of these men, who clearly control them emotionally, psychologically and economically,” Blandon explained.

“These girls have no possibility of making decisions. They’re exposed to every kind of abuse and violence,” she emphasized.

A context of gender violence

These violations to the human rights of girls occur in a context of prevalent gender violence in Nicaragua. The Ortega-Murillo regime has closed over 315 NGOs that were previously working for the rights of women in different areas of the country.

The Institute of Legal Medicine reported that cases of sexual violence increased from 4,803 in 2021 – including 3,428 girls, 796 women, 515 boys and 64 men – to 5,049 in 2022: 3,662 girls, 780 women, 537 boys and 70 men.

During both years, adolescents made up the majority of the victims. In 2022, 73% of the victims were under 18, while in 2021, 50% were girls under 14.

In addition to these numbers, the regime has released little data regarding femicides, and when they do, the numbers are far below those documented by civil society. This underreporting is due to the fact that the authorities only classify as femicides cases of women murdered by their domestic partners.

The OHCHR registered 36 femicides in Nicaragua from January – June 2023. This number includes four cases of young girls under 16. The Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions of the North and South have the highest concentration of cases with eleven femicides.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times.

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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.

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