Child Marriage is still legal in the US

Child Marriage is still legal in the US

About 300,000 children with a few as young as 10 were married in the US between 2000 and 2018. Not surprisingly, most are girls (86%) married to adult men – clearly an injustice rooted in gender inequality and patriarchy.

In 2016, the International Labour Organization found that “15.4 million people were living in a forced marriage to which they had not consented”. 37% of those victims are under the age of 18, and 44% of those children were “forced to marry before the age of 15 years”. “While men and boys,” the report states, “can also be victims of forced marriage,” 88% of victims are female. That figure rises among child victims of forced marriage: 96% were girls.

Child Marriage or should we say state sanction to rape a child?

UNICEF defines a child as anyone under 18 years of age. Ironically, while children in the US can get married, they are not yet entitled to file for divorce or seek shelter in case of domestic violence. Child marriage is still legal in 44 states, and it’s only in recent years that the remaining six states – Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New York – banned the practice with no exceptions.

The report titled United States’ Child Marriage Problem by Unchained at Last, created a little stir in the human rights circle when harrowing details of child marriage surfaced.

“I am a possession that is owned by my family and I am given to him (al-Qaeda terrorist) for him to now own”Yasmine Mohammed who escaped a forced marriage to an al-Qaeda terrorist in Canada

Unchained’s report points out that child marriage often covers up child rape and serves as a “get out of jail free” card for a would-be rapist under state law. Shockingly, in most states, the legal framework that would normally consider sex with an underage person statutory rape does not apply within marriage. In the remaining states, while sex with an underage person is illegal in all cases, marrying one is nevertheless permitted and there is no control or enforcement in place once the documents are signed.

Equally appalling is the federal criminal code which prohibits sex with a child aged 12 to 15 but exempts those who first marry the child. Unchained’s report rightly notes that “this incentivizes child marriage and implicitly endorses child rape.”

Where does the UK stand?

The situation is more or less the same in the UK. According to official data, between 2008 and 2017 more than 2,740 minors were married in England and Wales. Karma Nirvana, a British charity, recently reported: “it had seen a 150% increase in teenagers calling about forced marriage since lockdowns began on March 23”. 

It’s encouraging then to see that the UK introduced a bill this year that would close the child marriage loophole, which allows 16 and 17-year-olds to marry, with their parent’s permission.

Victims Anecdotes

Naila Amin told Ayan Hirsi Ali details of her forced marriage with her 28-year-old cousin when she was just 15-years-old. Her parents brought her from New York to Pakistan for the ceremony and left her there. With the help of the US State Department, she was able to escape about five months later.

“I can only explain my marriage as a gun to my head,” Amin said.

“I literally had no choice but to be married or die as a result. I was a prisoner in my own body. Even though it belonged to me, it wasn’t mine.”Naila Amin was forced to marry her 28-year-old cousin when she was just 15-years-old

Another victim Yasmine Mohammed who escaped a forced marriage to an al-Qaeda terrorist in Canada says, “I am a possession that is owned by my family and I am given to him (al-Qaeda terrorist) for him to now own.”

Last month, Judy Wiegand came forward to testify for a ban of child marriages in North Carolina, recounting her own experiences of marrying in northern NC in 1996, at the age of 15. Her husband turned 18 soon after they wed and became her “guardian”. As a minor, she was not able to “go to medical appointments by herself, she needed [her husband’s] permission to be on birth control, which he denied, and she couldn’t sign for utilities, rent an apartment or get a driver’s license without his approval”.

In North Carolina, children as young as 14 (the legal age to marry in North Carolina if a girl is pregnant) are being forced into “marriages”.

ON one hand, there are headlines like “Victory Against Child Marriage in New York State” and on the other hand, like this: “Some NC lawmakers let child marriage ban stall because they or someone they know married as minors”

Why is child marriage/child rape/slavery still existing in the world and in the so-called ‘developed world’?

There are a variety of evil agendas behind these forced marriages. Girls may be trafficked, sometimes as a result of fraudulent employment promises made to impoverished families, or as a result of the kidnapping. A girl may be married to pay off a debt. A girl is sometimes married to strengthen a tribal bond. A girl may be married to protect a family’s honour.

Sometimes, a girl is forced to marry the man who raped her because no one else will marry such a “tainted” girl says Ayan Ali in her column ‘Why is Child Marriage Legal in West‘?

Extreme pressure can be used to achieve compliance by one or both partners in circumstances of forced marriage, particularly where honour plays a cultural role. And when this happens it’s important to stop people from turning a blind eye for fear of being culturally insensitive.

Speak up against the atrocities. Child marriage is another form of slavery, and not to forget, a marriage gives sanction to rape. In this case, child rape.


Written by Prithiva Gupta

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