How does a 90-year-old man marry a teenager? Sex trafficking, state consent laws or was a judge blindsided? Unplanned pregnancies happen all day long in America and around the world. We all have a baby Boomer Era aunt or cousin that has said they married due to an unplanned pregnancy. Maybe even our own parents but it’s not the Baby Scoop Era anymore so why are girls still being married off? A federal law banning child marriages must be enacted as children cannot consent to marriage and parents and judges have failed to understand or investigate the reasons for these sham marriages.
The newest state to pass a law to save young girls from forced marriages is none other than Florida. Sounds odd knowing that it’s a very conservative state but Sherry Johnson worked for six years to have the law passed. She was forced to marry her pastor at 11 years-old after having given birth to a child conceived by being raped by the same man at 10 years-old. This isn’t uncommon in America. According to the Tahirih Justice Center 27 states still allow child marriages that do not include age limitations. The marriage laws contradict many of the statutory rape laws which state girls under 17 cannot consent to have relations/sex with men over the age of 18. Then why can they be married? Let us note consent. Even if a minor is willing she or he cannot consent to have a sexual relationship. According to a study by Unchained At Last between 2000 and 2010 approximately 167,000 children-majority girls-were married to men 18 and much older. If these mostly young girls cannot consent to sex, then how to marriage? If parents can imprison a man over 18 for having “nonconsensual” sex with their daughter, then shouldn’t the state stop them from being married? The effects of child marriages are heart stopping from extreme domestic abuse to marriage as subterfuge to force girls into prostitution. This complex contradiction requires federal intervention. Federalism is failing to stop forced marriages and underage marriages.
Parents and judges should no longer have a definitive role in marriage consent. Studies have consistently found the male partner is normally well above the age of 18 even in marriages with consent by parents or a judge. The Branch Davidians of Waco, TX allowed child marriages to some of their adult leaders. These girls have shared their stories, many stating they wished their parents had intervened. Religion is not a fundamental reason to marry off children either since a nonconsensual child cannot choose their religion. Religion is a forced phenomenon onto generations. Studies have shown adults often “lose their religion” as they grow into adults and move into adulthood. If a parent is unable to care for their children even at a level of consenting to a marriage that seems suspicious then a judge should have intervened. Judges should have had a list of investigative proof that a marriage of an underage girl or boy was necessary and consensual. Since parents and courts have failed hundreds of thousands of children then it can no longer be legal. A child marriage robs people of their Constitutional rights to safety and due process under the law.
A federal law mandating marriage to adults aged 18 and above must be enacted to save these girls and boys from tumultuous and marred lives. The system has failed when children are married off for false, inaccurate and illegal reasons. Marriage is a contractual obligation bound by the law. How can a teenager possibly understand the level of legality of the situation? They can’t. That’s why children are sent to juvenile detention centers-the court systems doesn’t allow them to live with adults. Adults don’t go back to high school classrooms to receive their diplomas, they take GED courses with other adults. We must separate children from adults in marriage as well. They say you can be anything in America, married as a child shouldn’t be one of them.