Of Child Brides and Broken Dreams
MISSOURI – December 19, 2018
An astounding 248,000 child marriages were performed between 2000 to 2010. And 77 percent of them were minor girls, married off to adult men. If you think this is happening in some third world nation, think again. These numbers are from the US.
Though Delaware and New Jersey have banned marriages for anyone under 18 without exceptions in 2018, the rest of the 48 States in the Union continue the practice. And Missouri is turning out to be a “destination wedding spot” for child brides, due to its lax laws. In Missouri, kids as young as 15 can marry with just a signature from one parent.
“The most important reason we need to end marriage before 18 is because it can so easily be forced,” says Fraidy Reiss, Founder of Unchained at Last, an organization that seeks to end child marriage in the US through direct services and advocacy.
As per a study, those who marry early are more likely to discontinue their education, earn low wages and live in poverty. Also, child brides tend to suffer from depression, nicotine dependence and specific phobias. And women who marry in their teens are at a greater risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and stroke.
Child marriage leads to separation from family and friends, and results in a lack of freedom to interact with peers and participate in community activities. Often, teenage girls are not physically mature enough to give birth but are expected to have multiple children. This can immediately place young mothers and babies at risk of serious health concerns, such as death during child birth or premature death in infants.
Why does such an inhumane practice still exist in one of the most developed countries in the world? It’s because of the laws. In a typical scenario, a minor girl and an adult guy meet, fall in love and have sex. When the girl finds out she is pregnant, the guy learns that he could be sentenced to life in prison on statutory rape charges. Their families get together, and a ‘deal’ is worked out to marry off the minor girl to the guy. Voila, he is legally off the hook.
Fraidy Reiss agrees. “In many cases, the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse and the parents force the girl to marry to prevent a scandal. This way, the perpetrator marries his victim, and can legally go on abusing her,” she says.
Though activists have been fighting for the cause over the years, they face significant obstacles. Some of those opposing stringent laws against child marriage include American Civil Liberties Union of California, lawmakers across the political spectrum, abortion opponents, and religious groups, among others.
Unless people stand united and raise their voices in asking their representatives to change legislation and outlaw marriage under the age of 18, child marriages would continue to wreak havoc in the lives of minors.