Underage Girls and Marriage (No, Not in Yemen or Libya…HERE)
There are a ton of issues to choose from which I could write about so, before we continue, let me give you this gentle disclaimer: The many law enforcement issues I could (and maybe should) be writing about here are just too much of an emotional tornado for me, so I’ve chosen another topic. Not to worry, I’ll go back to tackling the obvious stuff which makes all of us grind our teeth and hearts these days. In this issue, I give you something less obvious, but almost as emotionally excruciating – the idea of some young girls getting married off to adult males.
I’m not talking about some Romeo and Juliet story of a 17-year-old girl running off with a 20-year-old boyfriend – I’m talking about a 12-year-old girl being legally wed to a 40-year-old man. Ah, you scoff, that’s Yemen’s or Saudi Arabia’s problem, right? Wrong – and hold onto your seat: Between 2000 and 2010, there were approximately 167,000 underage girls married to adult men in the United States, and that was data from only 38 states. It’s our problem, too. In studies by nonprofit groups such as Unchained at Last (a New Jersey-based organization), these marriages have involved girls as young as 12 being forced into marriages to men, often “gifted” to them in prearranged marriages. The social fallout from this barbaric practice is a divorce rate of nearly 70%, a high school dropout rate of 50%, and countless cases of abuse and sexual slavery. Girls who marry before the age of 18 have a dismal 25% chance of attaining a college degree.
You want to bring up religious tolerance? Go ahead. I hereby proclaim myself as religiously intolerant to any cultural or religious practice which mandates a young girl be forced into a marriage with a grown man. It’s nothing more than a loophole to pedophilia and rape. It’s time to close the loopholes.
What I found particularly alarming is how completely asleep at the wheel we have been in this country about these depravities. Here in 2017, 27 of our 50 states have no laws which specify a minimum age for a child to marry. Even in states where the law might be 16 or 18, statutes allow judges to depart downward and allow marriage in cases where the girl is pregnant, or where both families have agreed to the marriage. So, instead of going to dance practice or playing on the soccer team at school, a barely pubescent girl in some cultural circles will leave her family home to become the sexual plaything of some deviant whose caveman moral code has told him it’s completely okay.
Recently, the efforts of Unchained got a bill passed through the New Jersey senate, but it was vetoed by the governor who deemed that the problem didn’t create any pressing “social ills.” No? A 70% divorce rate, domestic slavery, sexual abuse of a child – these don’t create any burdens for us taxpayers (not to mention the lifelong emotional damage of the “bride”)? The governor and others who have failed to see this as a problem need to get their collective heads out of their asses and take action.
Girls who have been brave enough to escape these marriages, by the way, have been deemed as outcasts in their respective cultural circles and even disavowed by their own parents. Some who have literally escaped their pedophile captors have met with the brick walls of an inadequate social structure: Domestic shelters won’t take unaccompanied minors, considering them “runaways,” and, with no willing parents to help, a girl may have little or no legal ability to file legal action on their own. This is where Unchained at Last and Fraidy Reiss, its founder, come in.
She founded the organization in 2011, after getting herself out of an arranged marriage and enduring the pain – to this day – of her family disowning her because of it.
“There’s nothing easy about getting out of an arranged marriage,” Reiss says. Her organization has been fighting for statutory sanity in minimum marriage ages, one state at a time. Unchained’s statistics show that there is no particular concentration of child marriages – they’ve occurred everywhere in the country, but Idaho leads the USA in per capita child marriages, while states like Texas, West Virginia and Kentucky all show high instances of minor child wedlock as well.
In the “developing world,” one in three girls is married by the time she is 18 years old. The developing world, I think we’ll all concede, far outnumbers developed countries like ours. That means that the global numbers of girls whose childhoods have been stolen from them – and replaced by the sudden expectation to be the sexual servant of an adult male – is staggering.
We are a country which accepts everyone, regardless of cultural or religious beliefs. People from all corners of the earth – developing and otherwise – have come here to enjoy the fruits of freedom. We are also a country which believes in our laws and we don’t allow cultural and religious beliefs to supersede those laws. But, somehow, we’ve let the fox in the henhouse with child marriage. We vigorously prosecute a 40-year-old man who has sex with a 14-year-old for a felony which could put him in prison for life. But, if he marries her, well, that’s another story. Legally, we’ve told 14-year-olds they can’t consent to sex; that’s why it’s rape. But, we let them marry, if it’s socially convenient.
If you haven’t been sufficiently offended to take action, go to www.unchainedatlast.org and learn more, or send my friend Fraidy Reiss an E-mail to ask how you can help. It’s going to take us to stem the tide of this truly social ill. Young girls on American soil are due the same protections the rest of us have and there is nothing which excuses the exploitation and robbery of their childhood.
Ramesh Nyberg retired from law enforcement in November 2006 after 27 years in police work. He now owns his own private investigation agency, Nyberg Security and Investigations, and can be reached at Ramesh@NybergPi.com. He enjoys getting feedback from readers.