End Forced Child Marriage

Child in Wedding Dress

Target: Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Secretary, U.S. Health and Human Services

Goal: To end the practice of forced child marriages in the United States.

The Tahirih Justice Center identified nearly 3,000 child marriage cases in the U.S. between 2009 and 2011, most of  girls under 18 years of age married to adult men. This practice is often accomplished with judicial approval. Victims suffered beatings, intimidation, threats of ostracism, and death. Only 10 states have laws that prevent or punish forced child marriage. Child marriages were documented across ethnic and religious backgrounds, including typical American families.

Typically, the child being forced into marriage is female, and this is consistent with data collected internationally. Child brides in the United States are usually in their mid to late teens, unlike the preteen child brides in Afghanistan and Bangladesh. There are currently no laws to investigate whether a child is marrying willingly or under coercion. A clerk has no jurisdiction to deny or delay a marriage application signed by a parent even if the child is sobbing openly during the procedures.

In most states, children under 18 must have parental consent to wed. Children under 18 can be wed in most jurisdictions with judicial consent. A study of child marriages in New Jersey found 178 children between the ages of 10 and 15 were married between 1995 and 2012. Judicial approval was necessary for these marriages. The majority, 91 percent, of these marriages were children married to adults.

Parents cite a variety of reasons for forcing their child into marriage. Some want to control their child’s sexuality. Others believe it will protect family honor. Still others use it as a method of gaining social status or economic security.

Romantic notions aside, marriage is a contract and should be reserved for adults. Child marriage adversely affects the child’s health, education, and economic opportunities. It also increases the probability of domestic violence, nicotine addiction, and drug and alcohol use. Children who marry are also more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.

The legal age of marriage should be 18. The only exceptions would be emancipated minors who can advocate for themselves. By signing this petition below, you will urge U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell to protect United States children by seeking laws that will prohibit all child marriages.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Secretary Burwell,

Children in the United States are being bartered in marriage for economic security, social status, control, or family honor. Parents attempting to broker their underage children into marriage should have their parental rights terminated. Marriage is a contract and should only be entered into by consenting adults–those who are 18 or older and legally able to make their own decisions. Additionally, judges should not be allowed to grant exceptions to this rule.

Those forced into child marriages are at a higher risk of suffering from mental health issues, alcoholism, drug dependency, and domestic violence. Children marrying under the age of 18 often forego their educations, limiting their economic opportunities.

Childhood is a precious time and should not be cut short by marriage vows and marital responsibilities. I urge you to pursue policies and regulations to permanently end child marriage in the United States. Please help our children.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Pezibear

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