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A small, 11 year old girl, Sherry Johnson became pregnant. She was raped by a 20-year-old from her church. Instead of dealing with the police, her family and church decided it would be best for the 11 year old to marry her rapist. Her parents drove her to the next county over, which had a judge likely to give them a marriage license. Sherry had no choice in marrying her 20 year old rapist. Shortly after she married, she stopped going to elementary school. Surprisingly, this is much more common than you would think. When you think of child brides, the US doesn’t necessarily come to mind. The sad truth is that child marriage is legal in nearly every state.
In May of 2018, Delaware’s governor John Carney signed a bill banning all child marriages in the state. This makes Delaware the first state in the US to fully ban child marriage. Before this bill, minors could marry at any age with parental and judicial consent. In most states the legal age to get married is 18, but they all allow exceptions. Delaware is the first state to fully ban exceptions.
Child marriage is a major problem in our country, which mainly affects young girls. It has trapped girls in to a cycle of poverty. Girls can be legally trapped in these marriages, because they are minors. It is often used to cover up or excuse statutory rape. With legal child marriage in our country, girls have been put at risk.
There is an alarming amount of minors getting married in the United States.
According to the Pew Research Center, “About 57,800 minors in the US, ages 15-17 were married as of 2014.” That is five of every 1,000 minors ages 15-17, but minors have married as young as 11 years old, so this only reports some of the marriages. The US government has called child marriage a human rights abuse in other countries, but we haven’t solved the problem in our own country. We like to think that we live in a country with a high standard for human rights, but how can we be so sure?
Most of the minors getting married are girls. According to Unchained At Last, “most children who marry in the US are minor girls wed to adult men.” This means that it’s not high school couples that have decided to get married too soon, it is mainly child predators legally marrying young girls. Since they are getting married at a young age to an adult man, they are three times more likely to experience domestic violence.
Child marriage is legal in nearly every state. Some states allow minors to marry with judicial or parental consent. Some states allow minors to marry if one of them is pregnant. The most surprising part is that 20 states have no minimum age limit. Girls can legally marry, but can’t file for divorce or get legal help on their own. Since they are minors, they can’t go to an abuse shelter, because it would be considered kidnapping. In some states, if a girl tries to escape her abusive marriage, she is legally considered a runaway...
Child marriages can trap girls into a cycle of poverty. According to the Human Rights Watch “girls or young women in the US who married before the age of 19, were 50 percent more likely than unmarried girls to dropout of high school.” This is even more of a risk for married teenage mothers, who are even less likely to go back to school. Married teens are three times as likely to have at least five children. Their chance of living in poverty is 31 percent higher. These marriages can trap vulnerable girls in abusive relationships with no way out.
Allowing child marriage is allowing statutory rape. Since most of these marriages involve minor girls marrying adult men, it makes it legal for them to have sex.
Some of these marriages are a way for a family to cover up their daughter’s rape. The New York Times cites Dawn Tyree as an example of this. She was raped by a family friend and became pregnant. Her family decided instead of reporting her rape to the police, they would have their 13 year old daughter marry her 32 year old rapist.
A child being married to an adult, makes what would normally be considered disgusting abuse, acceptable behavior.
Our government has called child marriage a human rights abuse, but nothing has changed. In the US children are continuing to marry at alarming rates. Since they are minors, they have limited legal rights. These marriages hurt girls in the long run. Americans like to think we have better, modern human rights, but how much of that is really true? If you want to learn more about what you can do to end this horrible occurrence in our country, go to: unchainedatlast.org.