Girls and women are coerced, beaten, pressured, tricked or otherwise forced into marriage across the US. They frequently face religious, cultural or familial pressures that make refusing or leaving the marriage feel impossible to them.
Marriage under the age of 18 is legal in every state of the US, though some states require parental permission or permission from a judge. Some states in the US do not have a minimum age for marriage and children aged 12 or younger are recorded as having been married in recent times.
The exact number of forced child marriages at specific ages is unknown because some states register the number of marriages ‘under eighteen.' This number would include those teenage couples who wanted to get married at 16 and 17, as well as the girls and boys forced to marry against their will and the underage children who are forced into wedlock at an age where intimacy with such a minor would be illegal outside of marriage.
Researchers have found correlations between child marriage and higher risks of mental and physical illnesses as well as a significantly increased risk of domestic violence. Also, child brides and grooms are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school and this lack of education often limits their options for work and any opportunity to escape the marriage at a later date.
15Growing Up In A Conservative Christian Family...
Growing up in Texas, in a conservative Christian family, Lyndsy Duet was taught to ‘honour thy father and mother.' As such, she felt unable to fight the pressure her parents placed upon her to marry the young man the family had taken into their house. Many 17 year-olds would have had support from other family members or friends to help them resist, but Lindsy had nobody.
In addition to the lack of support, Lyndsy was saddled with feelings of shame and helplessness as for the last three years, since she was 14, the same many had been abusing her on a regular basis. Lyndsy recalls “He asked my parents if he could marry me My mom was crying, she was so happy.”
Unsurprisingly the marriage was violent and unhappy for Lyndsy. Fortunately, she escaped after eight years and is now a school counselor.
14Ruby Was Just 14
Ruby was 14 when she was married off, against her will, to her step-brother Havin, aged 47. After three weeks Ruby tried to run away, hiding in her brother's house, but the rest of the family found out where she was and came to collect her.
When the sheriffs came to investigate a report of child abuse, they were told Ruby had gone on vacation, but she was actually being held against her will at a religious ‘camp’ designed to brainwash her into compliance.
When DCFS became involved, Ruby met with them and members of her family but was so intimidated she told the DCFS everything was fine. There was no follow-up from Child protective services, no speaking to Ruby alone and no physical examination to check for signs of child abuse.
It was eight years before Ruby was left alone long enough to escape her family and her abusive marriage.
13"You're Getting Married Today"
Trevicia Williams was a ninth grader, excited to be auditioning for the role of Annie in her high school play. Little did she know she was about to have an unwanted role forced upon her.
Trevicia’s mother picked her up from school that day and told her "You're getting married today." The 14-year-old sat silently, knowing what would happen if she argued, and her mother took her on the 45-minute drive to the courthouse. The paperwork was signed on her behalf, and she was married to a 26-year-old man who was hitting her within a month.
Told by her mother that she could not leave her husband and return to the family home Trevicia was pregnant at 15 and was able to divorce her husband at the age of 18. She then worked as a corrections officer and went to high school, becoming a paralegal before gaining her Ph.D. in psychology.
12"I Couldn't Even Drive Yet"
Like many 15-year-olds, Sara Siddiqui had a boyfriend. There was no physical side to their teen romance, but that did not stop her father telling her she would be “damned forever” if she lost her virginity outside of marriage. It didn’t help either that Sara’s boyfriend was from a different cultural background.
Sara’s father arranged an Islamic religious ceremony for his daughter to be married to a stranger 13 years older than her. Once Sara turned 16 her father took her to the local courthouse in Nevada, and there was a civil ceremony between her and her husband. By this time Sara was six months pregnant, and before the civil ceremony her husband could have been charged with statutory rape, but after the civil service, it was too late.
"I couldn't even drive yet when I was handed over to this man," said Sara, who escaped her husband after ten years. "I wasn't ready to take care of myself, and I was thrown into taking care of a husband and being a mother."
11“You Can’t Do That To Another Man’s Wife”
"You can't whip another man's wife" was the phrase used by 22-year-old Charles Johns when his nine-year-old wife was given the switch at school for being naughty. This was just one of many newspaper stories that ran as the nation whipped itself into a frenzy over reports that nine-year-old Eunice Winstead had married the tobacco farmer in Sneedville Tennessee.
The two were married by their Baptist minister on a country road with the approval of Eunice's mother and father. They both claimed that Eunice wanted to get married without touching on the fact that a nine-year-old has no concept of the realities of marriage and is woefully too young for the physical side of a relationship.
When challenged by the press Eunice's mother said: “Eunice don’t know nothing, She certainly ain’t in no fix.”. Talking of all the ‘furriners’ who were coming to look at the cabin where the couple had set up home. Mrs. Winstead said: “Why can’t they leave decent married folks alone?”
10"He Was Going To Pick Who I Married"
When she was just 15 years old, Tasneem (who asked to be identified only by her first name) went to visit her extremely conservative father who was a member of a Muslim sect in California. “He told me I was going to have to get married and the Sheikh was going to pick who I was going to get married to,” she says. “I never questioned my dad, ever.”
Tasneem was quickly married off to a 28-year-old stranger who she met for the first time on the morning of their marriage. Both her new husband and her father stood over Tasneem as she called and was forced to tell her mother that she had decided to stay with her dad.
When she turned 16, she was taken to Nevada where her father arranged a civil ceremony, giving his permission and nobody asked Tasneem if she wanted to marry. Perhaps it was because by this time she was visibly pregnant and the judge assumed it was better for her to be married than to have a baby out of wedlock.
9Say “I Do” To An Attacker
Sherry Johnson was 11 years old when she was informed she was about to get married. The groom, a 20-year-old member of her family's church, was the same man who had physically attacker her and made her pregnant. Sherry had also been attacked at the age of nine by an elder of the orthodox pentecostal church of which her family was members, but this was covered up by the church. When a parishioner began taking advantage of her on a regular basis, she became pregnant, and the family and church were no longer able to hide the violence inflicted upon them, and their then ten-year-old. After Sherry had given birth at the age of ten, the authorities began an investigation.
Rather than face, what they considered a messy and embarrassing court case, Sherry’s parents decided the best thing to do was to force their pre-teen daughter to marry with the many who had impregnated her through violence. This ended the legal proceedings, and Sherry left elementary school to become a wife and mother at the age of eleven.
8Wifely Duties, Then Homework
Toni Latino sat in her Fort Myers office asking the kinds of general questions she would ask of any new client. The woman in the client chair was only 20 but her soon to be ex-husband had filed for custody of their child, and she wanted to fight it.
When asked about her their child, the young woman said he was almost six years old; she had given birth when she was 14. When Latino wondered how old the father was now the young lady was unsure exactly how old he was but thought he was about 32, she had been married to him when she was just 13 years old, and he was 25. After the wedding, he moved into her bedroom in her parent's house, and she did his laundry and cooked his meals around school and homework.
Latino told the woman what had happened to her was illegal and accompanied her to the police where the investigation that followed resulted in her husband's arrest.
7She'll Pay For His Crimes
A father from Idaho was sentenced to four months in prison in 2016 after he was convicted of two counts of felony injury to a child as a result of a plea bargain. This was a result of him driving his 14-year-old daughter to Missouri and forcing her to marry the man who had attacked her. He told the judge "If you get them pregnant then you marry them.”
When sentencing the father, the judge said: “While you spend those 120 days in jail, perhaps you will think about the 120 days your daughter was in a vile farce of a marriage to a rapist.”
The person who had attacked his daughter Aaron Seaton was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty to the crime earlier in the year.
6Destined To Be A Captive
Flora’s Father told her at the age of 13 she would be marrying a member of their church. The man she was being forced to marry was in his fifties, already had five wives and had a reputation as a mean and violent man.
Most girls in their fundamentalist Christian community were so brow beaten that they were unable to fight similar fates, but Flora told her father she would kill her husband and herself at the wedding if she were forced to go through with it.
On a family trip, she broke away and went to a local police station where she told officers about the sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father. After a court case custody of Flora was given to her uncle who kept her prisoner for three years. At this stage, she broke away again but was swiftly brought back to her family and forced to marry her first cousin when she was 16.
5Ninth Grade Mom
Matthew Koso and his wife Crystal traveled to Kansas, which allows children as young as 12 to marry because their own state did not allow people under 17 to get married. Matthew is 22, Crystal is 14, and they have just had a baby together.
Crystal's mother gave her permission to get married after discovering the then 13-year-old was pregnant. The couple lives in Matthew's parent's basement. He is the main caregiver for their daughter, and his ninth grade wife goes to school. Their room is decorated with love notes she writes to him while she is in class.
The Kansas authorities are taking the unusual step of prosecuting Matthew for statutory rape. Usually, in these circumstances, if the couple marries, the authorities leave them alone but because this leaves girls open to abuse Kansas are looking to shut down all marriages where the age difference is more than four years if one partner is a minor.
4The US Knew About It
Jasmine is a typical American teenager. Her world is made up of school, friends, boys who may be more than friends one day, music, movies; you get the picture. What is unusual about Jasmine is that at 17 she has already been married and divorced after being taken abroad and forced into marriage, all with the US government's knowledge.
When she was 12, Jasmine's father became concerned that his daughter, an American citizen born and raised in New York, was becoming too ‘western,' so he arranged for her to visit family in Afghanistan. When she arrived Jasmine was told she would be marrying a 38-year-old man she had never met and the US was unable to do anything because they “cannot interfere in the laws of another country” and in Afghanistan the marriage was legal. It was not until Jasmine escaped to the US at 16 that she was able to get out of the marriage.
3Traded By The “Grown-Ups”
Lacey had no particular ambitions of her own. She had the vague idea that she would get married, have children and stay at home to look after them but was in no rush to do so. The idea that she might be traded as part of a deal indeed never crossed her mind.
Still, in seventh grade, she came home one day to be told by her parents she would be going to live in another house. As if this was not bad enough, she would be residing in that house as the wife of a 74-year-old man. Her parents had agreed she would marry him in exchange for his land, which adjoined theirs, when he died.
Lacey tried to protest but with no support and nowhere to run she was married to the great-grandfather, leaving school, becoming his housekeeper and carer and ending up pregnant before her 15th birthday.
All perfectly legal in many US states today.
2Eleven Year Old On Honeymoon
Until the late 19th-century, child marriages were so common that they weren’t even considered worthy of mention. At this time the stories of choice were what they called May-December weddings which were reported with excitement. One newspaper report spoke of a 9-year-old girl “still in short dresses” being married to a 50-year-old man, a bride playing with dolls, and an 11-year-old taking her honeymoon trip on a half-price youth ticket.
It was only as the 20th century rolled around that people began to view such relationships as inappropriate and to question the motives of older men who would want to be married to teen and pre-teen girls. At this time pedophilia was not a legal or psychological concept in the way it is today, and at most these men would have been subject to social gossip behind closed doors rather than any legal action.
1The Tide Turns
In 1926, 51-year-old multimillionaire Edward Browning began dating 15-year-old Frances Heenan who he met at a sorority dance. What followed is often cited as one of the first examples of journalistic excess as the couple was followed, reported on and photographed relentlessly.
This was not a problem for Browning, who loved publicity and he took Heenan - whom he nicknamed Peaches - on lavish shopping sprees and to New York's finest restaurants.
Vincent Pisarra of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children began a campaign to have someone intervene and stop the relationship so, only five weeks after they met Francis’ parents gave permission for the couple to be married.
Francis, who called her new husband “daddy” left their marital home less than six months later saying her husband insisted on keeping a goose in the bedroom and other odd behavior but was unable to obtain a divorce. However, her husband was given a legal separation, without obligation to pay alimony because Francis had abandoned him.
Sources: <span style="font-weight: 400;"> unchainedatlast.org, NYTimes.com, Goodhousekeeping.com, Slate.com, citation.allacademic.com, motto.time.com, news-press.com</span>
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