GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala's congress voted Thursday to raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 18. It had been 14 for girls and 16 for boys.
The unicameral congress voted 87 to 15 to approve the change, which had been urged by children's rights groups to prevent child trafficking and teen pregnancies.
However, legislators inserted a clause saying 16-year-old girls can marry with a judge's authorization in some cases.
Congressman Leonel Lira, who voted in favor of the bill, says the law will treat sex with underage youths as a form of rape.
"This breaks with a mistaken tradition," Lira said. In some areas of Guatemala, girls are often spirited away from their homes by suitors at very young ages.
UNICEF expert Juan Quinonez says there have been about 4,000 marriages a year in Guatemala involving girls ages 15 to 19. He says 4,700 girls from age 10 to 14 get pregnant every year.
This story has been corrected to show that the minimum age was raised to 18 for both genders.