Child marriage is often thought of as a third world problem. On average, one in three girls in the developing world are said to be married before the age of 18. However, it happens in the US too.
While the problem of child marriage is most common in parts of Asia and Africa, it is a global issue. The nonprofit organization, Unchained at Last, found new data revealing that in the US alone, 248,000 children have been married between the years of 2000 and 2010.
This number is probably shocking, considering most states require a minimum age of 18 to get married. The issue is that states allow exceptions to this rule. Most allow 16 and 17 year olds to wed if they have parental consent. Some states allow children under the age of 16 to get married, if it is approved of by a judge. According to the Tahirih Justice Center, there are still 27 states that do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry.
Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, wrote in the New York Times, “based on my own experience working with forced-marriage victims across the United States, I am sure many of these children had to marry against their will.”
Reiss knows this only too well from her own experience. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, Reiss was forced to marry at 19 years old. She soon found out that the man to which was forced to wed, possessed a violent temper – something her mother told her she was just going to have to get used to.
Why would a parent force their child into marriage? Reiss states in the New York Times, “parents give many reasons for forcing their children into marriage, including controlling the children’s sexuality and behavior and protecting ‘family honor’. Often, families use forced marriage to enhance their status or to gain economic security.”
Faith and religion are often reasons attributed to forced marriage, a Tahirih Justice Center survey found. “The survey found child marriage or forced marriage, or both, in families of many faiths, including Muslim, Christian (particularly Catholic), Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh. I have seen child and forced marriage in the Orthodox Jewish community, and I know survivors from Mormon and Unification Church backgrounds,” writes Reiss.
The Journal of Pediatrics published that child marriage causes a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of young girls. One organization, Girls Not Brides, attributes this in part to an emotional coercion put on the girls by their families, forced sexual initiation by their husbands, and early pregnancy.
Growing up, girls often dream of spending their lives with someone they love. Childhood marriage is a traumatic way to crush that dream at a young age. These young, vulnerable girls need someone to stand up with them, and the US government needs to start making laws to protect them. The US has to stop pretending that child marriage is a third world problem.
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