A group of young women on Thursday asked the Guatemalan Congress to approve a law raising from 14 to 18 the minimum age to get married.

Raising the legal age for wedlock "will be a measure that will help protect girls from the different forms of abuse and violence that we are the victims of in Guatemala," 15-year-old Mayra Yolanda told Efe.

Mayra is among a group of girls from communities benefitting from the education and development projects promoted by the non-governmental Plan Internacional organization, the promoter of Guatemala's observance of the International Day of the Girl Child.

The current minimum marriage age of 14 years effectively legalizes sexual abuse and virtual enslavement of young women, according to experts on youth and adolescence issues.

Nearly 20 percent of Guatemala's 15 million people are 19 or younger and most of them live in precarious circumstances.

In addition to the lack of health care, education, jobs and recreation, girls and teenagers in Guatemala are the victims of various forms of violence.

In the first few months of this year, according to official figures, there were 3,562 cases of violence against women, most of them minors, in the Central American country.

Meanwhile, so far this year, 31,000 births to girls between the ages of 10 and 19 have been registered, including 810 involving mothers younger than 15. EFE