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The Problem of Child Marriage

October 26, 2017 by pgd1

More than 167,000 young people age 17 and under married in 38 states between 2000 and 2010, according to a search of available marriage license data by a group called Unchained at Last, which aims to ban child marriage.  The search turned up cases of 12-year-old girls married in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina, while other states simply had categories of “14 and younger.”

It has been extrapolated that in the entire country, there were almost 250,000 child marriages between 2000 and 2010.  Some backing for that estimate comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, which says that at least 57,800 Americans age 15 to 17 reported being in marriages in 2014.

Globally, a girl marries before the age of 15 every seven seconds, according to estimates by Save the Children.  As in Africa and Asia, the reasons for such marriages in the U.S. are often cultural or religious; the American families follow conservative Christian, Muslim or Jewish traditions, and judges sometimes feel that they shouldn’t intrude on other cultures.

When she was a scrawny 11-year-old, Sherry Johnson found out one day that she was about to be married to a 20-year-old member of her church who had raped her.  “It was forced on me,” she recalls. She had become pregnant, she says, and child welfare authorities were investigating — so her family and church officials decided the simplest way to avoid a messy criminal case was to organize a wedding.

“My mom asked me if I wanted to get married, and I said, ‘I don’t know, what is marriage, how do I act like a wife?’” Johnson remembers today, many years later.  “She said, ‘Well, I guess you’re just going to get married.’”  So she was.  A government clerk in Tampa, Florida, refused to marry an 11-year-old, even though this was legal in the state, so the wedding party went to nearby Pinellas County, where the clerk issued a marriage license.  The license lists her birth date, so officials were aware of her age.

Not surprisingly, the marriage didn’t work out — two-thirds of marriages of underage girls don’t last, one study found — but it did interrupt Johnson’s attendance at elementary school.  Today she is campaigning for a state law to curb underage marriages, part of a nationwide movement to end child marriage in America.  Meanwhile, children 16 and under are still being married in Florida at a rate of one every few days.

State legislators must understand that child marriage is devastating in Niger and Afghanistan – and also in New York and Florida.  It’s past time to end child marriage right here at home.1

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 This blog was taken from:  Kristof, Nicholas.  “11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry her Rapist in Florida”.  MAY 26, 2017.  The New York Times Sunday Review.  Retrieved from:  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/sunday/it-was-forced-on-me-child-marriage-in-the-us.html

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