Esmeraldas is the capital of the province with the same name, in the upper north-west of Ecuador. Around 200,000 people live in this city, which attracts many tourists for its beautiful beaches.
However, due to the city’s proximity to the Colombian border, it is facing the consequences of drug trafficking, including violence, corruption and extortion. Furthermore, girls are at risk of forcing to get married.
Since 1979, SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting children, young people and families and advocating for their rights in Esmeraldas.
In Ecuador, girls are still victim of child marriages. Indeed, 22% of women are married before they turn 18, even though the legal age to marry in Ecuador is 18 years old.
Child marriage is a violation of the universal declaration of human rights, and the emotional damage a child suffers from a forced union is profound. There is also an increased risk of child pregnancies and domestic violence.
In the province of Esmeraldas specifically, 15% of women were married before age 18. This is the highest percentage of all provinces in Ecuador.
One third of Columbia’s cocaine production passes through Ecuador, and as the Esmeraldas province is located next to the Colombian border, the area is prone to a lot of drug trafficking.
This means that people not only face drug related violence, but also corruption, extortion, and money laundering, which is made easier by Ecuador’s dollarization of the economy.
These aspects have a harmful effect on the safety of children; especially for the 55% of people in Esmeraldas living in poverty; where the lure of easy money puts many at risk of becoming entangled in dangerous activities.