When you think of weddings, you see the red carpeted aisle coated in rose petals. A room full of adoring eyes, colored curtains draped over the church, with a line of loving bridesmaids and groomsmen. Then there’s the groom, standing tall at the altar waiting for his bride. But instead of a matured pair of gleaming eyes and a joyful grin of a matured bride, comes a 12-year-old girl. It happens every day, and the even right here in the US. Between the years of 2000 to 2015, over 200,000 children were married in the US. According to PBS, around 90 percent of minors are girls getting married off to mainly adult men ranging from 20s to 60s. Most Americans know this as an overseas issue, little do they know it happens in their own backyard.
At least ninety-three countries legally allow girls to marry before the age of 18 with parental consent, 1 in 3 girls in the “developing” world marry before they’re 18. The US is no exception, with over 25 states not having a set minimum age to get married; so long is a judge has approved already, according to NPR. More than 1,000 marriage licenses were given, to girls as young as 13 and 14. The most common states for child marriages are low income families in West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The government is allowing people to marry off children for any reason that can be signed by any judge they find, not even a judge specializing in family affairs and domestic abuse. This means that the judges won’t properly be able to detect if the marriage is forced or already on its tracks to being abusive. A normal waiver to the age restriction is pregnancy. But if you don’t go in depth on the origins of the pregnancy, the girls could possibly end up marrying their rapists parading as a doting husband. And the law gives no power for the brides to fight back.
This isn’t the only flaw in the domestic law, there’s a multitude of loopholes and exemptions that all put the kids at even more risk. Say the child is now in a domestically abusive marriage and wants to get out, well- it’s extremely hard for a minor to do so. Since they’re under 18, they can’t independently apply for a protective order, divorce petition, and ability to go to a domestic violence shelter. According to CBS, a runaway could be defined who leaves home under the age of 18- even children in this situation. This means since they’re considered a runaway, social services and shelters can’t interfere without retribution. So, we can marry off girls to adult men but have no backup plans or help if it goes awry?
The United Nations set a goal of completely elimination child marriage by 2030, and many citizens in multiple countries have taken the initiative to make that goal happen through activism, giving shelter to young girls, helping with divorce process, and so on. It’s time for our Legislative branch to listen up and take it on themselves. An amazing non-profit organization run by Fraidy Reiss entitled, ‘Unchained at Last’ is revolved around helping girls and women rehabilitate their lives after forced marriages through legal, mental, all-around life securing and more aspects. A multitude of states like California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania have bills pending to limit and/ or end childhood marriage in their states. However, some state officials are going against the ongoing problem. Sources say New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, refused to sign a law that would’ve made New Jersey the first state to ban child marriage due to his reasoning being ‘conflicting with religious customs.’ Researchers have shown the main reasons for the ongoing childhood marriages in a religious context has to do with seeing women as inferior to men, following the traditions of previous generations, believing marriage is necessary to become a ‘real’ woman, all of which are rooted in a patriarchal basis. But this bump isn’t stopping anyone anytime soon.
The answer to the first step isn’t an extreme complex answer that no one can comprehend. The government needs to recognize children should be given full protection that are already married- if they’re allowed marriage, they’re allowed protection. Then side a law in all states to set a minimum age of 18, disregarding parental consent, to safeguard children from this lifestyle anymore. Sign petitions, go to marches, educate others on it, bring awareness- because at this moment another child could be married off to another adult as your reading this.