Child marriage prevalent
A recently-passed Virginia law has banned child marriage in the state. This new legislation has shed light on a neglected aspect of U.S. life. Child marriage usually occurs between a female child and a male adult, but the definition does not exclude a male child wedded to a female adult. Prior to the enactment of the law, young girls aged 13 years and younger needed parental consent and a judge’s approval to marry. Since 2004, according to the state’s marriage bureau, thousands of teenagers have gotten married, 200 of which were reported to be younger than 15.
Now, however, the minimum age requirement to get married in the state of Virginia is 16. In the United States, marriage laws vary by state, with more than 20 states allowing marriage under the age of 16 with parental consent.
New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that between 2000 and 2010, 3,853 children were married—many between 16 and 17 with parental consent and some as young as 14 with judicial approval to avoid charges of statutory rape.
Child marriage in today’s United States by nature transgresses social acceptability and overspills boundaries. The truth is child marriage exists. But now, citizens can rely on religious, cultural and bureaucratic forces to uphold the new law. Little has changed on the matter since Hollywood produced an educational film entitled “Child Bride,” in 1943 to highlight the issue. The movie is based on the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to a 22-year-old man in Tennessee in 1938 that made national headlines, yet raised the hackles of religious authorities for indecency.
Child marriage raises important social questions. Consequences include poverty, poor education, domestic beatings, neglect, health problems, divorce and diminishment of women’s rights. In all, it promises, for the most part, a difficult life, as well as a burden on the parents.
It is obvious that strong notions of romantic love, unprotected sex, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy speak poorly of the general sex education provided in schools and at home. And today with immigration from Africa, Asia and Latin America, the question of child marriages assumes wider dimensions. It raises issues of prearranged child marriage, dowries and religious practices.
Centuries-old practices can and frequently do resist the norms of U.S. society, so their adaption to our laws may be difficult. Resistance is seen as a way of preserving long-standing traditions founded on religious conceptions. The current campaign for the presidency highlights the extent to which such matters can have dire consequences on newer Americans. Dire consequences will prevail unless religious and community leaders come upfront to reconcile or modify older practices according to the ways of U.S. life, in order to put in practice adaption to a newer social environment.
Whatever it is, child marriage in any form will continue. Such is a sad but true statement to make unless religious and civil authorities carry out necessary sex education and reintroduce the notion of civil pride and citizenship and devotion to the commonwealth.