Minors Marrying, Major Mistake, Colltalers
A beautiful bride in a white dress warmly greeted by relatives and friends. A groom wearing his best attire, leaning on his trusted cane. A few moments and they’re declared husband and wife. That could be a template for millions of wedding descriptions, except for one crucial detail.
The 13-year-old grasps her doll with one hand, and her 63-year-old uncle, now husband, with the other. A scene like that happens every two seconds around the world, says the Human Rights Watch. In Florida, 2,000 minors got married since 2013, including a 13-year-old girl.
You read it right. Not in Pakistan, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or elsewhere in Asia and Africa, where the practice may be common, but in the U.S., where over 200,000 kids got married between 2000 and 2015, according to a Frontline report. By the way, on the land Americans fight their longest war, Afghan law against marriage of minors is stricter than in Florida. Still powerful voices are against a ban on the practice.
Just last Thursday, the state’s House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has a record of being instrumental in passing any legislation, but now is struggling to get any action on gun laws, said he won’t support a child marriage ban. ‘The state shouldn’t tell high school sweethearts they shouldn’t get married,’ he said of a place where an average 20% of its population lacks basic literacy skills, as per Dept. of Education data.
He’s far from being alone. In Kentucky, where more than 10,000 children got married from 2000 to 2015 – the country’s third-highest rate – a bill that would make it illegal for girls under 17 to marry, or force any 17-year-old to get permission from a judge to tie the knot, has stalled.
As it turns out, a ‘family values’ group put pressure on the legislator. The bill, SB 48, is not dead yet but this is a state that already lets even younger children marry if the girl is pregnant, for instance, as it’s often the case, or whenever a boy impregnates a woman, regardless of age.
It’s beyond mind-boggling: it’s downright perverse, considering everything we know about what’s surrounding child marriage, such as sexual abuse, incest, poverty, and illiteracy, among others. Obviously, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, the bill’s sponsor, has all our support.
Bills like that and even more rigorous are urgently
needed nationwide, but don’t count on the president – ‘I’d marry her but, oops, she’s my daughter.’ – for support. After all, he campaigned for (and typically, left out to dry afterwards) the infamous Roy Moore, the defeated Alabama senate candidate, who’s accused of being a pedophile for molesting a 14-year-old, and pursuing at least eight other teenagers while a district attorney.
That resounding loss, or the shame of having his criminal conduct publicly exposed, however, haven’t prevented Moore from disgusting us once more: he’s now set up a Legal Defense Fund to ask for donations to help him fight those same accusers. And possibly run again. Aargh. Because people like him are, disgracefully, many and in positions of power, we still must hold on to our best values of humanity and decency. That means a renewed vigilance over our own conduct and that of those we support or elect to office. Because they can make a big difference.
‘States parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse (…)’
Article 19 of the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear about how children should be regarded on this matter. Thus the document also serves as an indictment, not just to the Corcorans or Trumps or Moores, but to everyone else too, including you and me. ‘The world is a dangerous place to live not because the people who’re evil, but for those who don’t do anything about it,’ as Einstein once said.
The Convention, a development of the 1924 five-point Declaration of the Rights of the Child, was adopted internationally in 1989. The U.S. is a signatory since 1995, but Congress is still to ratify it. In case you’re wondering when that will happen, that’s a cause to sink your teeth on.
Naturally, any discussion about child marriage, at least in the U.S., has to mention Polygamy which Mormonism, or the LDS Church, fought tooth and nail to preserve until, well, it ran out of teeth and officially stopped endorsing it in 1890. It’s illegal now, but Utah’s still well known for its tolerance to groups that don’t see anything wrong with a man having the right to several wives, even when taken while still children.
To the Catholic Church, sex abuse is still an open sore, strong enough to trip even Pope Francis, of whom so many expect so much. While in Chile, the man who over a billion people consider infallible, emphatically denied on camera he knew that Bishop Juan Barros had actively covered up years of child sexual abuse by a priest, only to be contradicted by evidence compiled by AP, that he did indeed know all about it.
The thousands of proven cases of child assault by Catholic priests, and so few convictions, keep showing us that this cancer is ingrained and widespread, and that most institutions can’t be trusted to do our job for us, not even, or even more so, the self-attributed guardians of faith and morality. In fact, victims, children or otherwise, usually report that when they sought redress from their religious leaders, they got chastised.
In a country already facing so many challenges, it seems unfair to remind everyone that that’s not it. That beyond banning military weapons sales, raising the minimum wage, providing healthcare and free education for all, letting the Dreamers be and enacting sensible immigration policy, there’s also the child marriage issue to address. Yesterday. Or the day before. But that’s what it’ll take to assure a better tomorrow.
To protect our youth, prevent that 13-year-old from ever suffering the ravages of sexual trauma, and curb the Moores and all like them, is the least we can do. It’s non-negotiable or we may as well paraphrase Einstein and assume we’re the ones to make this an unworthy world.
It feels dirty, just by talking about such a resonant issue. But it’s not about a high moral horse that we fight for it, or our collective soul; it’s for our most vulnerable, at the trenches of this war, who need to be shielded and rescued to safety. We’re her doll; she grasps it so tightly because she trusts us, as she should. If it’s not about honoring this trust, we may as well forget about the future. Cheers and congrats on your Oscar. WC