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America’s child marriage SHAME: girls in their mid-teens are still wedding older adult men


The era of 11-year-old girls marrying much older men is in America’s rearview mirror, but exclusive new data show that a worrying number of youths in their mid-teens are still getting hitched to adults.

DailyMail.com obtained figures from Unchained At Last, a non-profit that campaigns to end young marriages, showing how scores of kids — mostly girls aged 16 and 17 — have wed adults from Maine to North Dakota these past two years.

That includes 30 teens in West Virginia, 39 in Michigan and another 15 in Wyoming in 2021, according to the latest figures gathered from state sources that can take years to trickle through the system.

Once all the figures from 2021 and 2022 are available, researchers expect to uncover hundreds and perhaps thousands of cases, which can condemn teens to young pregnancies and abusive ‘groomer’ husbands.

This revives horror stories of child brides, like Dawn Tyree, who at 13 was married and pregnant with a man 19 years her senior, or Sherry Johnson, who was raped as a child by a deacon who she was coerced into marrying.

As recently as 2017, marriage for under 18s was legal in all 50 states. Currently, only seven states ban all marriages for those aged under 18, and seven states still have no minimum age limit for tying the knot.

The new data revives horror stores of child brides from America's recent history, including Dawn Tyree, pictured here with her first child, who at 13 was married and pregnant with a man 19 years her senior

The new data revives horror stores of child brides from America’s recent history, including Dawn Tyree, pictured here with her first child, who at 13 was married and pregnant with a man 19 years her senior 

In another shocking story of America's child brides, Sherry Johnson was raped by a deacon who she was coerced into marrying. She ended up having six children in the seven years they were together

In another shocking story of America’s child brides, Sherry Johnson was raped by a deacon who she was coerced into marrying. She ended up having six children in the seven years they were together

Though the number of child marriages has fallen this past decade, and incidents of prepubescent brides are rare nowadays — campaigners say state legislatures still have much work to do.

In a country with broad religious freedoms, many insular, cult-like groups and immigrant communities with their own traditions of marrying off girls, the practice is hard to stamp out, campaigners warn.

Becca Powell, the group’s advocacy director, said it was ‘inherently dangerous’ for any youth under age 18 to wed because they lack the legal rights of an adult, which can leave them trapped in abusive unions.

Those fleeing a cruel spouse can be treated as runaways by police and returned to their homes, even against their will. Likewise, domestic violence shelters often turn away unaccompanied children.

‘Even one minor being forced to marry before 18 is a tragedy,’ Powell told DailyMail.com.

Poll

Are 17-year-olds too young for marriage?

  • Yes 238 votes
  • No 58 votes
  • Not sure 8 votes

Child USA and the UN’s agency for children, Unicef, are working to end all marriages and informal unions involving those under the age of 18. 

In the US, child marriages regularly end in divorce and see the younger partner, usually a girl, drop out of school or fall into poverty.

As recently as 2017, marriage for under 18s was legal in all 50 states. Currently, only seven states ban all marriages for those aged under 18, and seven states still have no minimum age limit for tying the knot.

State laws vary, but child marriages can require a parent’s consent.

Politicians in Vermont, California, Washington, Texas, Maine, Kansas, Connecticut, and other states have proposed bills to raise their age limits this year. 

West Virginia’s Republican-run Senate Judiciary Committee this week rejected in a 9-8 vote a bill that would have prohibited minors from getting married. 

Wyoming late last month upped its minimum age for marriage to 16, over objections from state Republicans. 

Casey Swegman, a public policy director for the Tahirih Justice Center, an immigration non-profit, called Wyoming’s shift a ‘hard-fought win’ but warned that it still allowed vulnerable 16-year-olds to get married.

‘Our work will not be done until all states end child marriage completely,’ Swegman said. 

Conservatives and others have resisted introducing or raising age limits in some states — sometimes calling age limits ‘arbitrary’ or that they interfered with individuals’ rights and religious liberty.

Others say simply that there is nothing wrong with a 16-year-old getting married, that children must grow up one day and make tough life decisions, and that many teen marriages lead to years of happiness.

But campaigners insist they’re tantamount to abuse and too often tie teen girls to grown men.

A 2021 study found that 300,000 minors under the age of 18 were legally married in the US between 2000 and 2018. The vast majority were 16 and 17, but 20 of them were under the age of 13.

A 2021 study found that 300,000 minors under the age of 18 were legally married in the US between 2000 and 2018. The vast majority were 16 and 17, but 20 of them were under the age of 13.

Nevada, a state known for Elvis Presley impersonators officiating quickie weddings, has the highest historical rate of teenage marriages in the US, followed by Idaho, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

Nevada, a state known for Elvis Presley impersonators officiating quickie weddings, has the highest historical rate of teenage marriages in the US, followed by Idaho, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

They point to a 2021 study found that 300,000 minors under the age of 18 were legally married in the US between 2000 and 2018. The vast majority were 16 and 17, but 20 of them were under the age of 13.

In five particularly troubling cases, the child was married at age 10.

Nevada, a state known for Elvis Presley impersonators officiating quickie weddings, has the highest historical rate of teenage marriages in the US, followed by Idaho, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma.

Young marriages can lead to younger teen pregnancies, which raise the chances of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections, the UN’s World Health Organization says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has condemned child marriage, citing increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, early pregnancies and intimate partner violence.

The US and other global governments seek to end child marriage by 2030 as part of UN anti-poverty targets. In England and Wales this month, the legal age for marriage rose from 16 to 18.

MY CHILD MARRIAGE HELL

Dawn Tyree was groomed by a child carer

Dawn Tyree was groomed by a child carer

Dawn Tyree was 11 years old when a man 19 years her senior, who worked as her nanny, began grooming her. She says he gave her adult responsibilities, such as driving a car, so that she would feel older.

The 32-year-old impregnated her when she was aged 13. Her father quickly signed off on the couple’s marriage, and Dawn was wed after finishing sixth grade in 1985.

‘The solution was marriage,’ said Dawn. ‘Marriage covers up the rape, the sex abuse and the child endangerment.’

‘The marriage saved him from a prison sentence,’ she added, ‘and essentially put me in a prison.’

She continued: ‘As minors, we can’t do anything about it. It was a confusing time. It is brainwashing — call it what it is.’

The following year, Dawn found out she was pregnant again.

‘It was a hard pill to swallow — it put a little lump in my throat. But I lived through the first birth, so I just reassured myself: ‘You’re going to be OK. You can do this.”

Tyree now campaigns against child marriages with the group Global Hope 365

Tyree now campaigns against child marriages with the group Global Hope 365

Dawn found herself as a mother-of-two at a very young age, isolated from both adults and other people age, and admitted that after her marriage there was ‘nothing they could do.’

Aged 16, she terminated her third pregnancy and decided to flee her husband, fearing he would eventually start abusing their children.

She sought refugee at a women’s shelter with a two-year-old and one-year-old in tow, but was turned away because she was a minor. Homeless, Dawn left her kids with their paternal grandparents while she got back on her feet.

She said she soon found a roommate and took her children back. But she had to wait until she was 18 to finalize her divorce and formally win custody of her children before she could ‘breathe a sigh of relief.’

She now campaigns to end abuse against children and is calling for lawmakers to close all loopholes around underage marriage.

Ashley Duncan saw marriage as her only option

Ashley Duncan saw marriage as her only option

Ashley Duncan got married in Missouri at the age of 15 after she became pregnant with her 18-year-old boyfriend’s baby. At the time, she felt that marriage was the only option given her circumstances.

She later discovered that the speedy marriage was actually arranged by her family members to help her boyfriend dodge jail time for getting a child pregnant. Missouri then allowed 15-year-olds to marry with the consent of a parent.

‘I was scared but, at the time, I was told and believed,’ Duncan said. ‘I found out it’s not true… that since he was 18 or older, he would go to jail because I was pregnant.’

Duncan was married to her husband for two years and had a second child with him before they separated.

Sherry Johnson now uses her platform to focus on ending child marriage in Florida

Sherry Johnson now uses her platform to focus on ending child marriage in Florida

Sherry Johnson was forced to marry a man, who was at the time a 20-year-old deacon at her church, when she was just 11.

‘Nobody said anything,’ said Johnson. 

‘I knew I was a child. I knew I was 11. I knew he was 20. So I knew something was wrong then. 

‘And I was really totally surprised that they allowed it to happen.’

Johnson, who is now in her 60s, said she had already been raped by the man and gave birth to their first child when she was 10.

The man Sherry married (pictured together) was a 20-year-old deacon

The man Sherry married (pictured together) was a 20-year-old deacon

‘I was being raped by people with authority,’ she said. 

‘I didn’t know what was actually really happening. I just know that something wasn’t right about it.’

She ended up having six children in the seven years they were together, forcing her to quit school. 

She now uses her platform to focus on ending child marriage in Florida.

These stories were originally presented by ABC’s Nightline and Today.com.



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