The Truth about Child Marriage

In the world today, child marriage is an issue that affects 1 in 3 women globally (Washington Post). With over 250 million women married before the age of 15, today this is a current and relevant issue that some youth face everyday (Washington Post). The causes of child marriage vary but some of the more frequent reasons include: lack of education, religious practice, and culturally normalcy. Child marriage is also devastating in the emotional, social, and physical effects is has on the bride.

For many child marriage seems like an issue faced by few in foreign countries but in reality many girls face this issue in the United States too. Child marriage is when either one or both marriage participants are under 18. Most commonly the women is the younger party. Historically the age of marriage has been younger as it varied with peoples lifespan but even today child marriage is present in both developed and developing countries. Between the years of 2000-2010 more than 167,000 children were married in 38 states, almost all of them girls, some as young 12. Most of which married men over 18 years old. (Fraidy Reiss)

Child marriage is an issue that individuals of every socioeconomic level face but one thing many of those situations have in common is the lack of education by the women involved. For many who get married as a child it signifies the end of their educational path. In situations both abroad and at home many women take on rolls at home after their marriage instead of pursuing a job or education.Girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children. A study done in Mozambique found that 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18. While 10 percent of girls were married that had secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education (ICRW). Not jus in Mozambique were similar results found, in multiple Asian countries including Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia it was found that increasing education for girls has a direct effect on increasing a marriage age (ICRW). Education plays a huge role in the likelihood of a child marriage with girls who have little to no education being three times more likely to marry be married off by the age of 18 compared to girls with either secondary or higher education (Girls Not Brides). Education plays a significant role in child marriage both in the United States and abroad.

One example of this occurrence is Syeda’s story. Born in Pakistan Syeda was forced into a marriage with her first cousin at the age of 16 years old. She was told that marriage was the only way that she would be able to further her education and be able to attend college. Following her wedding Syeda lived with her parents and her husband lived elsewhere, but following a move to America everything changed. In America her husband moved in with her and her family and she endured horrific physical and sexual abuse. During this abuse her family failed to defend her against this truma and insisted she stay married.At the age of 25 her husband demanded that they return to Pakistan. Following her refusal to leave her husband continued the for almost two more months before she she was thrown out of her house by her parents for not following her husband. This event led to Syeda going to a shelter where she took control of her life. She has now almost finished her bachelors, and has both a car and a house. She is currently working on a divorce.

Religious practices also play a huge role in child marriage. Though no religions support child marriage there are some conservative religious groups that sanction child marriage such as Mormons, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, some Islamic groups. (Derek Welch). The common start to these relationships are courtship rituals that allow parents or religious leaders to find suitable spouses. Many more conservative religious groups have clear gender roles. The women’s role is to stay at home and take care of both the home and the children. While the men are the primary financial supporters for the family. Because of these designated roles for life itis possible for younger women to marry because they can fulfill the responsibilities at home as soon as they reach puberty. According to Fraidy Reiss While marriage before a certain age is not a religious requirement, some religious sects do promote marrying earlier rather than later, in order to pre-empt and prevent sexual relations outside of marriage. Religion plays a large role in child marriage throughout the US.

In 2001, at the age of 14 Elissa Walls was forced into a marriage with her first cousin 19 year-old Allen Steed. Walls grew up in a religious community of Mormons called The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) in Hildale Utah. There, Walls and other members were led by a self-proclaimed prophet, Warren Jeffs, who himself had 78 wives and more than 50 children. Despite her protests and cries Walls was forced into the marriage to her cousin where she suffered emotional and physical abuse along with multiple miscarriages. When she tried to leave the marriage the religious community values set by Jeffs stood firm that she must stay in the marriage. Due to lack of support from her family Walls endured 4 more years in the marriage before she was able to leave when she turned 18. This lack of support is all too common in these cases with much of the family siding with the religious leaders rather than the victim in fear of ostracism and honor violence. She was even able to start a case to charge Jeff’s for his crimes other rape cases included. With the help of organizations like Unchained at last Walls was able to turn her life around after the horrific period of marriage(Kerry Mcqueeney).

Another story of religious marriage is that of Esther who married in New York shortly after turning 17. Growing up in a Hasidic Jewish community Esther was surrounded by peers that got married young and her future seemed set from a young age. So when her parents found a suitable match at 16 there was no surprise. Before marrying Esther was only allowed to meet her future husband for half an hour before the engagement was announced. Shortly after the engagement Esther tried to leave stop the marriage but after realising the consequential shame it would bring on her family she quickly stepped back in line. After four months of engagement during which there was no contact Esther uncovered lies including ones of her fiance age ( making him older than she was told) and the fact that he was a smoker. Due to New York’s laws at the time Esther’s parents had to give parental consent for her to be married at 17. Following the wedding more and more secrets continued to unravel including the fact that her fiance had been having sex with prostitutes during the time of their engagement.The marriage continued down hill when he accused Esther of having mental issues causing distrust between her and her family and friends. As the marriage went on Esther was raped me a million times while we were married. But there were also gang rapes.(Esther Unchained at Last). During the marriage Esther was also not allowed to have birth control and following her birth the baby became a source of blackmail.

He would constantly threaten to take the child away if she did not comply to some horrendous things. He husband also struggles with alcohol and drug abuse which became a point of tension in the marriage. After 9 years in the horrendous married Esther fled to her parents house with her children. At first Esther was sent back to her husband but she was persistent and told her parents about all the mental and physical abuse she endured. Following the confession she gained full support of her family. The struggle was not over following her leaving her husband Esther was coerced by the religious community to have her divorce arbitrated by a religious court instead of the traditional civil court. Following the arbitration Esther lost many rights on how she wanted to raise her kids. With the aid of Unchained at Last Ether was able to go back to court and gain full custody of her children(Esther Unchained at Last).

In some parts of the world childmarriege is not looked down upon and is in fact a thing of normalcy among some cultures. In rural towns in the Central African Republic for example it is normal for parents to marry young girls off to older men who already support themselves with a job. This cultural phenomenon is most common in Southern Asia and Africa where the average age of marriage is substantially less than that i developed countries. In India 44.5% of women got married before they turned 18. ?girls in India grow up with the normative expectation of marriage within a socially determined social frame. Indeed, this shows that culture is rooted in the societal structures.? (Jeniffer Birech). In another country Bangladesh In 45% of the women were married between the ages of 10 and 14.In comparison the average age for a women to get married in the United States in 2017 was 27.4 (Macaela Mackenzie). These young marriages are caused by the cultural emphasis on a womens role and in man cases treatment as property. In many places women are since as inferior and are less likely to be educated and more often since as a burden. Another reason for young marriage is to make sure young girls virginity stays intact before for her future husband. In countries like India and most of Africa it is highly looked down upon if a girl is not a virgin and finding a suitable husband is even harder in those circumstances. In addition poverty is a bg cause for child marriage as girls are seen as a financial burden that can be alleviated through marriage. Bride wealth plays a role in child marriage an is an initiative for parents to marry of girls faster. In some places ?the bride price decreases as the girl gets older.? which encourages early marriage.

Around the United States Reiss is advocating for change for the laws surrounding child marriage. In the United States, marriage age laws are set by the states sofor change to happen lawmakers must step up. Today only two states, Delaware and New Jersey, have outlawed child marriage complete. There are still 17 that have no minimum age requirement. There are also 48 states that have exceptions to their laws that allow children to marry in certain circumstances such as parental consent, judicial consent, pregnancy etc. (Wikipedia) Because of these exceptions In many cases, minors in the US are married when they are under the age of sexual consent in their area (which ranges from 16 to 18). In many staes in the US the legal age to divorce is 18 meaning that minor girls involved in these marriages cannot legally divorce. In 2001 in Tennessee, three 10-year-old girls were married to men aged 24-31. Meanwhile in Alabama, a 74-year-old man married a 14-year-old girl. (Wikipedia) Both states have since set minimum ages but with the exceptions in the law these marriages were allowed to happen. The advocacy from groups like Unchained at Last between 2016 and 2019 12 states raised their minimum age for minors to marry, or added a minimum age when they previously did not have one. (Wikipedia) For marriages overseas many of the same issues are faced with the law. In the case of 10 year-old Ayu she was driven over the borders from Malaysia to Thailand to evade the stricter marriage laws in Malaysia. She become the third wife of 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid. After the marriage ceremony and certification she then was transported back to Malaysia(Hannah Ellis-Petersen). This is not a unique case as many use the legal loopholes in Thailand’s religious laws that allow Muslim communities to govern themselves.

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The Truth about Child Marriage. (2020, Mar 16). Retrieved August 4, 2021 , from

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