By J.S. von Dacre
Investigative Journalist of the International Criminal Court against Child Kidnapping
Child marriage and human trafficking are transposable acts, culminating in the stripping away of a person’s rights and freedom. While countries like Zimbabwe, Gambia, Malawi, Honduras, Guatemala, Chad, and El Salvador have banned child marriages in recent times, an epidemic of child brides in America continues to rage–with little escape for victims.
While the minimum age for marriage is 18 in most of the US states, in half of those states, there remains no set minimum age below which a person could get married. It is normally as a result of parents or a judge who give their consent. In other words, getting married to someone under the age of 18 is legal in most of the U.S.
Furthermore, child marriage is attributed to higher rates of school dropouts, domestic violence, poverty, and both mental and physical health disorders. Unchained at Last, a non-profit dedicated to assisting women and girls in these situations, reported that between 2000 and 2010, around 248,000 children, who were as young as 12, were married in the US. Out of that figure, 77% of victims were girls who married adult men, often with an age difference that, under their state’s laws, would constitute statutory rape.
Fraidy Reiss, the director of Unchained At Last, said to The Guardian, “When I began, I thought it would be easy. I thought we would just explain the problem and legislators would jump up and change the law immediately. After all, the US state department considers child marriage a human rights abuse. But everywhere there are politicians who think it’s a bad idea to change the law. You wouldn’t believe how many legislators have told me that if a girl gets pregnant, she’s got to get married. One female Democrat politician asked me: ‘Won’t you increase abortion rates if you end child marriage?’ That left me speechless.”
Coming from an orthodox Jewish family, Reiss bore a personal and kindred connection to the plights of hoards of child brides in America, as she herself was coxed into marrying at the tender age of 19.
“In many cases, pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse and the parents are forcing the girl to marry to prevent a scandal. So the law doesn’t protect the child at all. When an adult man has sex with an underage girl, this is considered statutory rape in many states. But when the perpetrator marries his victim, he can legally go on abusing her,” Reiss said.
“…It’s so difficult to help child brides escape. Our organization risks being charged with kidnapping because they are under 18. This has already happened to us once. Also, there are very few shelters in the US that accept girls younger than 18. So when girls call us, we have to tell them the help we can provide is very limited. Most of the children who reach out to us for help have tried to kill themselves because they would rather be dead than forced into a marriage. That keeps me awake at night. Something has to change.”
One victim whose unwavering determination to bring such a change was Sherry Johnson. At the age of 11, she became yet another child bride in America, after she was forced by her parents to marry a 20-year-old man who had raped and impregnated her.
“They forced me to marry him to cover up the scandal,” Johnson told The Guardian. “Instead of putting the handcuffs on him and sending him to prison, they put the handcuffs on me and imprisoned me in a marriage.”
Johnson said, “Marriage put a definite end to my childhood. I was expelled from school and by the age of 17 I had six children. There was no way I could escape. You are not allowed to sign legal documents when you are under 18, so I couldn’t file for a divorce. For seven years, I was stuck with the man who damaged me and continued to do so.
“Child marriage delayed my life. I was never able to attain an education. I am still struggling, trying to survive. Working three jobs as a healthcare provider to make ends meet. And then there’s the pain, the trauma that you have to deal with.”
In January, after an arduous process of campaigning, Johnson was finally able to get the Florida Senate to unanimously pass a law to abolish child marriages in Florida. The bill, however, was later amended to permit 16- and 17-year-old pregnant girls to marry.
To learn more about the crime of parental child kidnapping and the help available to “left behind” parents, please contact the International Criminal Court against Child Kidnapping.
Summary: child brides in America
The victims of child & Human rights violation, if not getting timely and suitable justice in the court of law in their countries, can appeal to the INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT AGAINST CHILD KIDNAPPING.
This post was originally published by INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT AGAINST CHILD KIDNAPPING and is republished here with permission from the author.
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