Delaware signs bill to end child marriage, who’s next?
New Jersey shelves bill to the second end child marriage.
WILMINGTON, DEL. – For 10 years, Donna Pollard was silent. They don’t speak out about the physical and mental abuse she says she endured during her three-year marriage with a man 15 years her senior.
“I don’t have the chance to have a child, he took that,” said Pollard. “He started taking care of me when I was only 14 years old.” A Kentucky native, Pollard, now 34, was on wed 16 to someone she now calls her predator.
To many, child marriage sounds like a very distant problem. But in the US, about 248,000 children as young as 12 were forced to marry between the years 2000 and 2010, according to the marriage license data are collected and analyzed by Unchained at last, a non-profit organization that helps the girls escape child marriages.
But the states are now hardening laws that would ban this type of marriages. This month, Delaware became the first state to impose a minimum marriage age of 18 years. Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, signed the bill in the law of 9 May.
The people who fight to end child marriages say states are finally recognizing a problem that has long pain is usually young girls. Forty-nine states, children 17 and under to marry under certain circumstances, often when a parent or a judge approves.
The proponents of child marriage is prohibited, claiming that it strips children of their childhood – and member states must do more to fight against these forms of marriage.
Reiss married at 19, now 37, went on to found Unchained at last, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women leave forced and child marriages.
(Unchained at Last )
“If you try to be a human rights abuse why would there be an exception for the people who are most affected?” said Fraidy Reiss, executive director of Unchained.
As a survivor of what she calls a 12-year forced marriage and the founder of Unchained at last, Reiss said laws need to toughen up protection of the most vulnerable.
Kentucky recently introduced a bill setting the marriage age at 17. The law requires that minors must have a GED or diploma to get married.
But Reiss said that those types of laws are not strong enough.
“I plan to say no thank you to those states,” said Reiss, “Go back and try again.”
Donna married at age 16 to a 31-year-old man.
New Jersey was also trying to raise the marriage age to 18 years. But the measure stalled this week after a backlash by the orthodox Jewish community.
Those who criticize the increase of the age limit, calling with the efforts of draconian and a violation of a number of cultural and religious customs. They also say that the government should not interfere with the sacrament of marriage.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed a measure last year to increase the age limit to 18 years, said that the proposal is hypocritical.
“It is unfair to say that a 16-year-old can never consent to the marriage, although New Jersey law permits the same 16-year-old to consent to sex or obtain an abortion without so much as parental knowledge, let alone consent,” Christie said last year. “That inconsistency in the logic is the alleged logic of a total ban.”
State Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, told NJ Advance Media the current proposal is too rigid and would not withstand legal challenges.
“There are no special exceptions, no court involvement, no recognition of religious or ethnic tradition. It seems to me the bill could be made a better and more representative of the communities in the entire country,” Schaer told the website. “I think that the bill will almost certainly face lawsuits, and the invoice can easily be improved without that the importance of the message.”
At least 20 states have no minimum age set by the law. During the last two years, New York, Florida, Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, Connecticut and New Hampshire have raised their minimum marriage age of 16 or 17 years of age, with at least seven states are considering legislation to tighten up their rules.
Those who are in favor of raising the age argue that minors minors do not have the same legal rights as their older partner. Minors are not to sign binding contracts, such as housing agreements, safe education, can file for the divorce, and in some cases are not even old enough to drive.
“I was caught,” said Pollard, who said she was rejected from housing shelters because of her age.
Experts and lawyers say that marriages are less likely to finish school and are vulnerable to abuse. They also say early marriage, the social, educational and financial burdens on teenage girls.
“We have a situation in which most states, a girl can marry, but can’t even file for a divorce,” said Reiss. “What a way to ‘lock’ in the marriage, this is a real problem.”
But Delaware University Sociologist Chrysanthi Leon warns that long-term conservative traditions can slow down accounts that are similar to state recently passed. State legislators, Leon said, have the tendency to protect family rights on the intervention of the government.
“The only thing I would caution is that we tend to see unintentional injury, in particular with symbolic laws [such as the H. B. 337],” said Leon, “We often see vulnerable, more vulnerable, depending on how these laws are enforced.”
According to Leon, the efforts for the protection of young brides or grooms can have a detrimental effect, placing additional blame on the victim or making them more vulnerable to persecution.
But for people like Pollard, the passing of the laws of the state of Delaware is just the beginning.
“Down,” she said, “and 49 to go.”
Talia Kirkland is a multimedia reporter based in Philadelphia, Pa.