A rural challenge, that adolescent daughters do not become “child mothers”

A rural challenge, that adolescent daughters do not become “child mothers”

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]


Article dedicated to Anabell Cardoza and Jesner Pérez, who seek their own path in the midst of “social tsunamis”



Juanito would constantly go by the house where Juanita lived, he 20 and she 13. The mother detected that her daughter was restless, and concerned she went to the pastor of her church, and asked for his prayers and advice. But the pastor, with complete indifference, said to her, “what is so strange? This is normal, my 12 year-old daughter was taken.” The mother had gone to the wrong place for advice, along the way she unburdened herself with her friend, “If he was only a hard-working man, but he is a bum!”

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and holocaust survivor, said once, “The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.” In the story the pastor shows complete indifference to the fact that girls who are minors are “taken” by their (future) husbands, even taking agency (decision) away from the women. It is an indifference shared by most of the adults of the rural area, school teachers, State officials, and members of organizations. The mother herself in the story, even though concerned about her daughter, resigns herself to this rule: “If only he was a hard-working man” – a phrase that is like “Love Valeriana”, hoping that in a plate of rice you find some chicken meat, that the man ends up being “hard-working” even though he is covered with a lot of “rice” (abuse and unfaithfulness). How did this social fact of “taking her” became normalized and how can rural societies awaken and cultivate love?

1.     Normalizing “taking her”

While in European societies forming couples is delayed to the age of 30, in rural areas of Central America it seems to move up to less than 16 years of age. Most girls between 12 and 16 are “taken” by their (future) husbands who are older than 18, or “they go” with them one night when dogs bark at the “thief” and the men grieve their past lovers. From that moment they truncate their adolescence (12 to 18 years of age), do not experience their youth (14 to 26) and move directly to being mothers; they become child mothers.

Here they move in together between 12 and 16 years of age. A little while ago a 12 year-old girl moved in with a 19 year old. Her parents went to take her away and after a few days the girl went back to him. Another 13 year-old was taken, and returned in two weeks with a 20 year old man. They are at the age of madness. When people find out they say, “That poor Mom, she took such great care of her, and it did not matter!” All this becomes normal. In my time we moved in at 16 and 18, now they do it even younger. (Luvian Rivas, community of Villanueva, El Jícaro).

This story is common in almost any rural community. What has happened for these practices to become normal? Several reasons are heard in the recesses of rural communities.

  • Fathers and Mothers do not let their daughters leave the home nor let them have friends, which is why girls feel obligated to flirt in secret or by chat.
  • In churches they preach that contraceptive measures are sinful, and that a girl that has one and then another boyfriend is shallow, in contrast if a boy has only one girlfriend they say he is not much of a man.
  • Girls believe they will be free by getting out of the house.
  • There is social pressure that a girl is not single when she reaches 18, “the train is going to leave you behind,” “an old hen is hard to cook”.
  • Girls dress as little women, with short skirts, thus boys try to seduce them. It is when down below heats up what is above does not think…”when they take to the alley no one stops them.”


These responses are like leaves on trees. What sustains them? In the figure we list the beliefs that move human minds in a hostile way for adolescent girls.

Adolescent girls are bullied: “It is out of fashion for a girl to be a virgin”, adolescent boys and girls see being a virgin as “something of the past”. What does this mean? In a context of low population density and stable communities, with little migration or immigration, the community value of “getting to marriage as a virgin”, in spite of expressing inequality between women and men, avoids early pregnancies and pushes couples to be of age. The context of the last 30 years is different, there are very unstable communities and also communities that are captives of religious conservatism that see using contraception as “sin”; let us read again “the advice” of the pastor in the story “indifference”, advice that is not based on the Bible but on an informal rule of patriarchy. This change in context left the value of “being or not being a virgin” hanging, without getting pregnant nor moving in together, which is why a young girl who gets pregnant without wanting to, sees herself forced to move in together (or marry) at whatever age she is, “so that the man vindicates me and does not leave me as a damaged woman.” A tacit rule is “you get pregnant, and you move in together.”

Mothers and Fathers treat their daughters and their sons differently. It is rare for a boy 16 years old or younger to move in together or marry. His Mother and Father would immediately advise him, ”Do not take on a woman, do not take on responsibility by bringing in a woman; if you take on a woman you are going to have to work harder.” While they advise their daughter differently, “you are going to get yourself pregnant,” they assume that any “outing” is already sex; they do not tell her, “be careful, I love you, I don´t want anything bad for you”; nor do they tell her how to be careful, “sex without pregnancy.” Why the difference? The mentality of the Mother and the Father is that the daughter is an expense for the family and that if she goes (or “is taken”) it is “one less mouth to feed”; in other words, indirectly but effectively they are expelling (“handing over”) their daughter. An unspoken rule in families is that “the son brings in a woman and the daughter leaves the home.”

In many communities there is only education available up to the 6th grade. Most Mothers and Fathers do not insist that their daughters continue studying. “What for, if she is going to leave me” – they justify it. In the 6th grade adolescents are 12 years old, which is why the phrase insinuates “that she should go.” If the daughter was finishing her secondary at 17 or 18 years of age, being close to studying in the university, that same phrase would be interpreted differently, like having few resources.

The family rule that does the most damage to daughters is that they are born without the right to the inheritance of land. This rule corresponds to the previously expressed idea, that daughters are an expense and a family “burden.”

All these rules are maintained by authoritarian institutions of the family, church and State. They are like a tsunami which it is difficult for the daughters to be able to escape; “tsunami” is a wave of such dimensions that it wipes away everything in its path, I am using it in its figurative sense. “You were born to tend the fire”. “You are a burden for the family”, “you are an additional mouth”,”you will not have an inheritance”, “it is sin to have sex without giving birth”, “you are not going to study because you are going to leave”, “we do not love you like we love your brother”, “leave the home…” It is difficult for anyone to be able to resist that tsunami of attitudes and actions. This is how one moves from the control of the father to the control of the husband, always under the institution of the family, legitimized by the conservative church: “Obey your husband, fast to find forgiveness”; in other words, even being dragged along by the “social tsunami”, she continues appearing to be “guilty”. And this under the indifference of society – brothers, adult people, organizations and institutions.

These unequal and authoritarian realities have been normalized by asymmetric power structures. In the religious sphere they conceal it manipulating the Bible, that “the male is the head of the household, said the Lord”; but Jesus did not say that, rather Jesus directly attacked that patriarchal and authoritarian family (see Matt 12: 46-50). In the family sphere, saying “she was taken” makes the family appear to be a victim, as the “owner” of the daughter where she is a “takeable” object, which is “superfluous” and that her destiny is to be maintained (and controlled) by a man. Behind all of this is patriarchal capitalism that pushes the family toward monocropping, dividing up their land and expelling their daughters to give birth at an early age to cheap labor.

In other words, Mom and Dad, along with religious, are subjected to the institution of patriarchal capitalism. In this system that “takes” the girl or adolescent, because they see her as a thing, as social kindling, as a “uterus” for birthing cheap labor. This practice, even when the girl or adolescent says that she is leaving from her own will, is against her will; it is the abuse of that system that makes her repeat that “they took her with her willingness”. Or, are there people in their right mind that want to be “taken” so as to not experience their youth, to go from girls to mothers and to eventually becoming “single mothers”?

2.     Facing the challenge of changing things

Awakening and cultivating love. How? In the previous section we deconstructed “what is normal” and we showed that these realities are connected and maintained by different institutions which we are a part of. That is a path for awakening.

Later rural societies should trace out goals for cultivating change. A community can propose that their daughters and sons move in together or marry after the age of 18[2]. This would allow them

Degrees of love


In an interview, Alejandro Jodorowsky, artist and writer, explains the degrees of love.

–        Physical love is eating and working together; “I need your company”

–        Sexual love is passionate, once there is pleasure there is discussion

–        Emotional love is that we are interested in loving one another, “I want you to love me”

–        Intellectual love continues to experience company and sexuality

–        Conscious love is uniting consciousness (souls), “I want to love you”, seeing that the other person grows, progresses

–        Divine love is union in interior strength, supporting one another, we do not want anything for ourselves that is not for others


to experience their adolescence and begin their young adulthood, a phase in which they find their love, their soul in another person, that conscious and divine love that Jodorowsky describes (see sidebar) in which love is wanting the other person to progress along their own path. Young people will have more time to cultivate their capacity to discern what they want to be, and not want society wants them to be. With this goal the risk will be reduced that their daughters and sons, granddaughters and grandsons grow up as orphans, and the probability will increase that the new couple would reproduce awareness like their memory and identity, instead of subjecting themselves to the belief that “children are provided by God”.

This perspective could be possible if the churches followed Jesus, if in the schools the teachers gave sex education classes based on science and not on religious prejudices, if the State penalized couples formed with minors, and if Dad and Mom understood that their love for their children should not discriminate against their daughters.

How can we achieve that goal? Let us begin at home. A family that loves equally their sons and daughters, can instill in them the idea that they can fall in love responsibly (without getting pregnant) and that they have equal rights to family inheritance and studies without regard to sex, which is why there is no reason for “leaving” the home nor “taking” anyone before 18 years of age. The family can even be more specific with their daughter: “I will leave you land when you are of age, and if you want you can work 1 mz of land already;” “study every day and as much as you can, we will do all we can to support you and your brother.”

This practice of the family can be supported by associative organizations and cooperatives that, like the wind, can remove the rotten leaves of harmful beliefs. Member families who are able to keep their daughters from “leaving” before the age of 18 can be supported by the cooperative with scholarships so that the young woman can study in the university. Daughters of members between 12 and 16 years of age can also be provided a calf or a pig so that they learn to save and invest.[3]. These practices would help increase the self-esteem of the daughters and sons and would contribute to the fact that schools and churches would appraise their attitudes and recognize that adolescent girls have the right to love and to experiencing their youth. The phrases most heard would be “I love you daughter, the same as your brother”, “we will give you an equal inheritance”, “study daughter and son, we will help you all we can”, “my daughter and son are my treasure and never a burden”.

3.     By way of conclusion

At the beginning of this article, we asked ourselves how “being taken” got normalized and how rural societies can open up to love. We identified several beliefs that sustain these adversities against daughters. Sex as a sin, men as those who maintain women, daughters as an expense, daughters without the right to either study or inheritance. All that is like a tsunami: “daughter, leave home.”

Part of awakening is becoming aware of these realities. With this starting point, communities can propose removing the indifference cemented into our societies, and work so that no one forms a couple before the age of 18.

To achieve this goal two things must happen. One, that families assure their daughters and sons their equal rights in terms of the inheritance of land and ability to study, precisely as the fruit of their love for them. Two, that cooperatives and associations support families so they do not de-peasantize themselves, teach the daughters of members to save and invest at an early age and provide them scholarships for university studies.

Correspondingly, a community with girls who reach the age of 18 without forming couples or marrying could be an indicator that we are facing a living community where indifference is being eroded, there are no child mothers and that it is a society that also cultivates love.


[1] René has a PhD in Development Studies, an associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University, member of COSERPROSS and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation. rmvidaurre@gmail.com

[2] It is interesting to observe in the culture of the Caribbean Coast, whose culture is summarized in the Palo de Mayo dance, that they do not allow girls to enter to see what the women are doing (dance around the May Pole). That dance expresses the fertility of nature and human fertility, precisely in the month of May when the rains begin. Figuratively it refers to the mayaya god. “Mayaya lost the key”; without the key the woman and man cannot enter their home and therefore cannot procreate. In other words, having babies is for adults. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM6HXl8ygBA

[3] The Community Social Enterprises (CSE) in San Juan del Río Coco (Nicaragua), for example, provide the value of 50% of one share (C$1000) to a daughter or granddaughter of a member of the CSE, if the members puts up the other 50% of the value of 1 share. This fund comes with the contribution of the people who have more than 100 shares in the CSEs. This shows that when there is a will, there is a way.

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