Every year in the United States, thousands of minors take marital vows. Most often, young girls are threatened or pressured into being married off to adult men by their family members of by a pimp. The minimum marriage age in most states is 18, but there are special exceptions to these laws that allow for minors to legally marry. In 2011, the Tahirih Justice Center uncovered roughly 3,000 known or suspected cases of young girls in the United States being forced to marry under special circumstances.
For instance, minors who are 16 or 17 years of age are allowed to get married if they obtain parental consent, which requires a parental signature of a marriage license application. The issue with this exception is that it is often hard to distinguish parental consent from parental coercion. There are typically no stipulations attached to parental consent laws that require investigations about a child’s willingness to marry. In the past, parents have sold their children for cultural purposes, family agreements and financial concerns. In this way, parents are able to force their own children into inappropriate and unwanted marriages.
Another exception to the minimum marriage age for children is marriage with judicial approval. In most states, there is no minimum placed on the marriage age in a case of judicial approval. Children as young as elementary age can be married off to someone who is old enough to be their parent.
There are many organizations that recognize the vulnerabilities of American minors to forced child marriage. Unchained is an organization founded by Fraidy Reiss that seeks to provide free emotional support and legal services to vulnerable girls who are trying to escape forced marriages. Often times, these girls had few alternative options prior to the arrangement of their marriages. Whether it’s due to the limits of social norms or religious beliefs, the organization works to ensure that these girls can overcome the barriers they face and create their own life path.
The organization will offer its services to any girl who is brought to the US or taken from the US for the purpose of an arranged marriage. Unchained also advocates for the passage of legislations and policies to protect girls from arranged or forced marriages in the US. Unchained has helped over 200 girls escape arranged marriages over the course of four years. The organization has also written a bill that was passed into law in New Jersey to help domestic violence survivors. As a whole, the organization seeks to effectively combat the current cases of child marriage and ensure that the proper laws are in place to prevent child marriage in the future.
It’s important to remember that child marriage is not something that only occurs overseas or in underdeveloped parts of the world. Child marriage is a real issue affecting many minors in the United States and only by recognizing the issue can our country begin to combat it.
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