A Mexican teen who ran away to escape an arranged marriage to her neighbor was jailed last week, according to a report.
The 14-year-old girl, identified in local reports as Anayeli, was set to marry last Monday in Mexico’s Guerrero state along the Pacific coast after her family received $9,300 for the arranged union, the Daily Beast reported Monday.
The girl’s mother took the payment despite arranged marriages being illegal in Mexico since 2019, prompting the neighboring family in the Joya Real village to spend $2,600 on the big day, including by hiring a band, slaughtering a cow and prepping a feast.
But the teen fled before the festivities got underway Monday and ran to the nearby home of a 15-year-old friend, identified as Alfredo.
“She thought it was her older sister who was going to be married,” Abel Barrera, director of the Guerrero-based Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, told the Daily Beast. “She never thought it would be her, because she was a minor.”
Barrera said the girl took off despite her mother agreeing on the price for her hand in marriage and the other expenses paid for by the groom’s father.
“None of that interested the girl,” Barrera continued. “She simply wanted to preserve her freedom, her life and her safety.”
Arranged marriages among minors in Mexico are still common throughout rural regions, despite the 2019 law, Barrera said. The girl is a member of the indigenous Mixtec people, the Daily Beast reported.
Young girls are “treated as an object” by their in-laws once forced into arranged marriages, Barrera said.
“She has to work, she has to cook the food, she has to do the cleaning, she has to go to the fields, and if she gets to work as an agricultural laborer, the money is not paid to her, but to her father-in-law,” Barerra said.
The groom’s family asked Joya Real’s auxiliary law enforcement department, known as Community Police, to track down Anayeli once she disappeared. She and Alfredo were located and taken to jail, the Daily Beast reported.
The pair were told Anayeli had to abide by the arranged marriage or pay back the $2,600 the groom’s family spent on the nuptials and related revelry.
The teens were freed from jail by Tuesday morning, but were later put into protective custody as part of Mexico’s Comprehensive Family Development system, according to the Daily Beast.
“Anayeli’s case is very complicated,” an attorney who helped secure her release, Neil Arias Vitinio, told the outlet, adding that she only speaks a Mixtec language known as Tu’un Savi.
“The situation with her was very difficult because she is a monolingual, illiterate girl who does not even have a minimum of schooling,” Vitinio said. “When talking to her, we realized that she is very self-conscious. She would hardly speak a word to us, most of the time she was silent.”
Anayeli’s father had recently been killed by unknown assailants, leaving her mother financially strapped and desperate to support her family, Barerra told the Daily Beast.
Spanish newspaper El País reported in June that thousands of young girls are sold annually into forced marriages across Mexico, turning children into merchandise to be peddled for $9,500 or more. Any complaints by the victims are typically met with the phrase, “I paid for you,” according to the report.
The teen’s harrowing story follows that of another girl from Guerrero who had been sold into marriage at just 15 years old in October. Like Anayeli, she was jailed by the Community Police after fleeing from her new husband’s home, where her father-in-law tried to rape her, the Daily Beast reported.
While some girls are still being “forced to obey” arranged marriages set up by their parents, the two recent escapes suggest a potential changing tide, Barerra said.
“There are beginning to be cases now in which the girls, because they don’t love the men, are making decisions not to marry them,” Barerra told the Daily Beast.
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