As a young professional, I have arrived at the point in my life when many of my friends are getting married and starting their families. It’s a beautiful and exciting time to see so much joy and life blossom. As I work to plan my own wedding, I find myself stepping back to think of the young girls who perhaps dreamed of getting married one day with the beautiful dress, the union of families, and the celebration but instead are forced or coerced into marriage at much too young an age.
Child marriage strips young girls of not just dreams of a perfect wedding, but also often denies them further educational experience, threatens their health and wellbeing, sometimes locks them in a life full of violence and abuse, and leaves them with the idea that girls are inferior to boys. According to Girls Not Brides, each year, “15 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 28 girls every minute. 1 every 2 seconds.”
Child marriage further propels gender inequality and poverty. In developing countries, tradition intertwined with generational poverty can persuade a family to marry their daughter off sooner to alleviate economic hardships. Surprisingly, child marriage is also prevalent in the United States. According to the Tahirih Justice Center, “researchers estimated that over 9.4 million U.S. women had married at age 16 or younger, and that nearly 1.7 million had married at age 15 or younger.” (For more information and statistics, click here). The majority of these child marriages are between a young girl and an adult man.
In a world where we view marriage as a beautiful commitment and covenant between two individuals, it’s important to remember that child marriage can be dangerous and unjust. Child marriage often leads to family instability, reduced educational opportunities, linkages to human trafficking, and high rates of intimate partner abuse and violence.
In the United States, most states have set the minimum age for marriage at 18, but there are numerous exceptions to the rule that make it possible for girls as young as 12 or 13 to be married to an adult man. Click here for a report about child marriage and an analysis of state laws. As we work to foster God’s web of life, let us continue advocating for girls so they can reach their full potential with justice, freedom, and dignity.
Are you concerned or moved by this issue? Consider calling your legislators to discuss this issue with them and ask how they are working to ensure girls are protected and treated with dignity and equality.