Child brides call on US states to end ‘legal rape’

US laws permit the legal rape of thousands of teenage girls every year, survivors of child marriage say. (Shutterstock photos)
Updated 25 October 2018

Child brides call on US states to end ‘legal rape’

  • Child marriage, more commonly associated with developing countries, was permitted in every US state until this year when the Atlantic coast states of New Jersey and Delaware enacted blanket prohibitions of marriage before age 18
  • Globally 12 million girls marry before age 18 every year, says Girls Not Brides, a coalition working to end child marriage

NEW YORK: US laws permit the legal rape of thousands of teenage girls every year, survivors of child marriage say, but momentum is growing to end underage marriage in more than a dozen states.
Child marriage, more commonly associated with developing countries, was permitted in every US state until this year when the Atlantic coast states of New Jersey and Delaware enacted blanket prohibitions of marriage before age 18.
“I don’t understand how other countries comprehend that it’s wrong, but in our country somehow it’s right,” former child bride Sonora Fairbanks told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I think it’s literally sexual assault ... It’s legal rape.”
Globally 12 million girls marry before age 18 every year, says Girls Not Brides, a coalition working to end child marriage which the United Nations regards as a human rights violation.
Campaigners say children married young are more likely to leave school, get divorced, experience domestic abuse and mental health problems and live in poverty than those who marry later.
The majority of US states do not lay out a minimum age for marriage if statutory exceptions are met, such as parental or judicial consent or in case of pregnancy.
But at least 20 state legislatures are likely to weigh reforms next year, experts say.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers may raise the age of marriage to 18. Under current law, children ages 16 and 17 need parental consent and those under 16 need judicial consent as well.
Lawmakers in the midwestern state of Ohio also are weighing reform so that 17-year-olds would need court approval to marry. Current Ohio law lets 16-year-old girls marry but with an array of exceptions allowing younger children to marry as well.
Child marriage survivors often say they were forced to marry against their will, particularly if they were pregnant to avoid the stigma of giving birth outside wedlock.
Rates of underage marriage are high in southern, rural states with a high prevalence of poverty and religious conservatism, as well as among Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Sikhs and Hmongs, says campaign group Unchained At Last.
Raised in a strict evangelical family, Fairbanks was groomed to marry young and at 16 wed a man 10 years her senior.
“That was the only choice presented to me,” she said.
“People saw it as consent because I wasn’t kicking and screaming. But if anyone asked me what I really wanted, I didn’t want that ... I wanted to go to college. I wanted to get a job. I wanted to date people.”
She gave birth to eight children as her efforts to leave were stumped by having no money and nowhere to go.
“Your husband can report you as a runaway because you’re under 18. You’ll be brought back to his house,” said Fairbanks, now 40.
Child brides typically cannot get divorced because they are underage, many women’s shelters will not take anyone under 18 and landlords will not rent to minors, she said.

Throw-away child

About one in 200 children aged 15 to 17 — some 58,000 — were married in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of US Census Bureau data. Just over half were girls, it said.
Girls who are abused are more likely to become pregnant and face pressure to marry, said Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center, which opposes child marriage.
Molested as a girl, Evie Lane was pregnant at 13. Married at 14, she moved out of the home of her abusive stepfather into that of what proved to be an abusive husband.
By age 15, she was the mother of two children.
“You have no voice. You have to do what they tell you to do,” said Lane, now 47 and living in South Carolina.
Another former child bride, Dawn Tyree, was pregnant by a family friend whom she was forced to marry at age 13. He was 32.
“I feel like I was a throw-away child. I was tossed around from home to home and, at the quickest opportunity, married off,” said Tyree, now 46.
Tyree and Fairbanks have lobbied to change the law in California, which allows marriage at any age with consent of a judge and parent.
Proposed legislation that would have banned child marriage altogether was amended in 2017 to remove age restrictions and add stricter court oversight instead, campaigners said.
Some Americans have the mistaken impression that underage marriage typically involves high school sweethearts, said Tyree.
“That’s what I believe keeps the laws intact,” she said. “What’s unfortunate is that’s not the case.”
Unchained at Last said three-quarters of some 167,000 child marriage licenses it examined, dating back to 2000, involved underage girls — some as young as 10 — marrying adult men.

Lawmakers are often reluctant to introduce reforms because they believe marriage is the best solution to teenage pregnancies and they do not want to stifle religious freedoms.
Maryland considered but failed to vote on a bill this year to tighten up its law, which allows 15-year-olds to marry if pregnant with parental consent. State lawmakers will reconvene in January.
NARAL, an abortion rights group, opposed the reform.
“Youth seek marriage for a variety of reasons,” it said, including access to a spouse’s health insurance coverage, housing assistance, custody rights and military spousal benefits.
“Although the national advocates for this bill seek to assist a young woman’s struggle against parents and legal guardians forcing her into marriage, it also ignores challenges a (pregnant) youth may face when ostracized by her family.”
But the tide is turning, Smoot said, as more data is publicized and survivors tell their stories, helping the public understand child marriage.
“We’re getting to at least acknowledgement that children should not be married,” she said. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit

China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

An aerial view shows a chemical plant after an explosion in Yancheng in China's eastern Jiangsu province early on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 min 34 sec ago

China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

  • The blast occurred on Thursday at the Chenjiagang Industrial Park in the city of Yancheng, in Jiangsu province
  • The company produces more than 30 organic chemical compounds, some of which are highly flammable

BEIJING: The death toll in a chemical plant explosion in China rose to 64 Saturday but rescuers found a survivor among more than two dozen still missing in the debris of one of the country’s worst industrial accidents in recent years.

Thursday’s explosion in the eastern city of Yancheng injured hundreds and flattened an industrial park.

The local fire brigade pulled a man in his 40s from the rubble of the destroyed chemical plant around dawn on Saturday, according to a statement on the city government’s official Weibo account.

He was taken to hospital for treatment, the statement said, without giving further detail of his status or injuries.

Rescuers are looking for 28 people who are still missing, Yancheng mayor Cao Lubao said in the statement.

“The identities of the dead and the missing are being confirmed through interviews with family members, home visits and DNA tests,” Cao said.

More than 600 people have received medical treatment following the blast, according to the city government.

Among them, 21 are critically injured and 73 are seriously injured, the statement said.

The explosion toppled several buildings in the industrial park and caused a huge fire that raged through the night, while rescuers scrambled to find survivors in the plant’s wreckage.

Hundreds of rescuers were dispatched to the scene, local authorities said, and some 4,000 people have been evacuated from the blast site.

The force of the explosion — which was so powerful that it apparently triggered a small earthquake — blew out windows and dented metal garage doors of buildings as far as four kilometers from the site.

Nearby residents — many of them elderly — were seen sweeping up glass, and in some cases appeared to have abandoned their homes entirely.

The city government said some 89 houses were damaged beyond repair and families were resettled after demolishing those structures.

The government said it was also repairing blown-in doors and windows in 10 school buildings near the site so that all schools in the area can resume classes Monday.

Local authorities investigating the cause of the accident said an unspecified number of people were taken into police custody on Friday.

The facility involved in the explosion belonged to Tianjiayi Chemical, a firm with 195 employees established in 2007 that mainly produces raw chemical materials including anisole, a highly flammable compound.

Tianjiayi Chemical has a history of violating environmental regulations, according to online records from Yancheng city’s environment and ecology bureau.

In 2015 and 2017, the firm was fined for violating rules on solid and water waste management.

Several residents told AFP they were concerned about pollution from the industrial accident.

“We don’t have drinkable water here,” one 60-year-old woman surnamed Xiang said. “Why hasn’t the government sent us some water?“

According to a report released Friday by Jiangsu province’s ecology and environment department, several rivers near the blast site are contaminated with chemicals, including chloroform and dichloromethane.

But the city government said Saturday that “continuous environmental monitoring data show that pollution indicators are within the normal range, and the drinking water... is not affected.”

Authorities said they had also dammed a tributary to the nearby Xinfeng River to prevent any “outflow of sewage from the chemical industrial park.”

An aerial view of the blast area showed a large swathe of destruction in the industrial park, where multiple fires had raged.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze Friday after battling raging flames through the night. Three chemical tanks and five other areas had been on fire.

Deadly industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In November, a gas leak at a plant in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, killed 24 people and injured 21 others.

In 2015, China saw one of its worst industrial accidents when giant chemical blasts in the northern port city of Tianjin killed at least 165 people.