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By JESSICA GUERRERO

MORELIA, Michoacán — The precarious economic situation in which more than 40 percent of Mexicans live, according to government statistics, along with other factors, such as low education levels and the prevalence of a macho culture in rural southern Mexico, have been the perfect prelude to the emergence and establishment of a social phenomenon in which women are objectified and traded as merchandise by their own families.

This practice has been observed primarily in the southwestern states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. These states, in addition to being all located in the same region in Mexico, also lead the list of the country’s poorest, where unemployment and educational lag predominate.

The extreme socioeconomic problems faced by the inhabitants of these states have led them to desperate measures and forced them to do the unthinkable, setting a price on their daughters and sisters, selling them to the best bidders looking for a way out from the situation of deprivation and extreme poverty they live in. Such practices have turned into a bizarre normalized tradition in these communities.

Most of the girls that are put on sale by their relatives are teenagers and minors who are traded for money or livestock to become property of whomever pays for the highest price. Although these girls are often sold as brides, the real purpose of this trade isn’t always clear and it is suspected that labor and sexual exploitation are frequently involved in these illicit transactions.

Some of the localities where this phenomenon has been widely observed by activists and social organizations include the municipalities of Metlatónoc, Cochoapa el Grande, Xochistlahuaca, Igualapa, Tlacoachistlahuaca and Malinaltepec , all located in the mountainous region of ​​the state of Guerrero.

Although the authorities of the state of Guerrero have acknowledged this situation as a form of human trafficking, they maintain that this has been a very challenging matter to address since most of these forced marriages aren’t reported to the police and they go unnoticed because they are rooted in the cultural practiced among the people of these communities. Consequently, the state and local governments do little to intervene, as does the federal government.

According to local testimonies from the community of Metlatónoc in the state of Guerrero, where 94 percent of the population lives in a high degree of poverty, families charge between 80,000 and 180,00 pesos for the sale of their daughters, bwith girls between 10 and 16 years being the most expensive.

In this regard, statistics show that in 2020 alone, more than 3,000 girls and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 17 gave birth in the state of Guerrero, one of the highest teenage birth rates in the country.

Teenage pregnancy is in itself a problem that Mexico has faced during the last decade and whose figures, instead of decreasing, have grown exponentially year after year. Mexico today is the country with the highest number of teenage pregnancies among the nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with a fertility rate of 77 births per 1,000 teens between 15 and 19 years old.

This treatment of women as merchandise, despite being a taboo subject in Mexico, is more common than is believed and is a custom that arises as a result of the conditions of extreme poverty that prevail in the country. the incidence of these forced child marriages has only increased as a result of the covid-19 pandemic, with an estimated increase of 2.5 million Mexicans in 2022 joining the ranks of the 55 million who live in poverty..

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