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

Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

Updated 52 min 20 sec ago

Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

  • India has beefed up security forces in Kashmir after last week's suicide attack in Pulwama
  • The attack, claimed by Kashmiri separatists, killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops

NEW DELHI: Separatist leaders in Kashmir have called for a shutdown on Sunday in protest against the “illegal detention” and “arbitrary arrest” of some of their colleagues and the deployment of an additional 12,000 troops in Kashmir valley.

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called the arrest of the senior separatist leader Yasin Malik and the crackdown on 200 Jamaat-e-Islami cadres and leadership, including its chief Ameer Abdul Hamid Fayaz,  “dictatorial” and “arbitrary.”
It said that “nocturnal raids across the valley look to be a part of the continued policy of suppression of pro self-determination leadership and narrative.”
“The last 30 years have shown that jailing and intimidating activists and leaders will not deter them from their path, nor will it stop people from demanding the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through self-determination,” said a statement issued by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
The separatist leaders also condemned the pressure tactics being used by the government against some of the local media.
Amid the crackdown on the valley-based separatist leaders New Delhi has also started deploying 12,000 additional troops in the valley.
“We are keeping two things in mind — to control the situation emerging out of the arrests of the separatist leaders and to be ready to hold elections in the valley parallel to the national elections,” a senior officials in Srinagar told Arab News.
After last week’s Pulwama suicide attack that claimed more than 40 lives of paramilitary personnel in South Kashmir, there has been a considerable build-up of troops in the valley. 
The crackdown on the separatists coincides with the crucial hearing on Article 35-A in the Supreme Court on Monday. The article grants special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and has been challenged by a section of the Hindu right wing in the Supreme Court.
The nocturnal arrests of the activists and separatist leaders have come under criticism from the valley-based mainstream political parties.
“In the past 24 hours Hurriyat leaders and workers of the Jamaat organization have been arrested. Failure to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mahbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
She questioned “under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ally in the valley Sajad Lone also questioned the wisdom of the crackdown.
“Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” said Lone in a tweet.
However, Dr. Hina Bhat of the BJP justified the arrest of the Hurriyat separatist leaders.
“If you want to bring peace in Kashmir it is important to remove all the ingredients which are causing disturbance in the state, be it separatist or Jamiat,” said Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader.
“Why you think we should go and talk to militants who are killing their own people. We are not killing these separatist leaders, we are just removing them from the scene.”
“We have tried and gave enough chances for the dialogue process with Pakistan. What happens is that when we trust Pakistan we are backstabbed and we cannot trust Pakistan for a dialogue process,” he added.
She told Arab News that “the government is taking appropriate steps to bring back peace and life in the state.”
“The militants in the state are brainwashed individuals and they pick up guns because of their personal reasons not to fight for the cause of Kashmir. Youth are being misguided and brainwashed by the separatist leaders for their political agenda. They work as the agents of Pakistan,” asserted Bhat.
Kashmir-based analyst Professor Siddiq Wahid said that “Delhi is practicing a cynical policy at its best.”
“In the last 24 hours, the fog has cleared and it is becoming apparent that the BJP is spinning Pulwama in the interests of electoral politics. Their war-cry was to isolate Pakistan, so it has not succeeded because international support for this is non-existent. Yet it has successfully stirred the BJP base,” added Wahid.
He told Arab News that “Delhi continues its policy of denial of dispute and at the same time making the Kashmiri eminently more insecure in India. It is disastrous.”