Early Marriage: Here in the US, Too

Last September I extolled the virtues of marryyourdaughter.com, an online hoax website that gave early marriage an "American" face, in determining whether, when confronted with images of the practice right here at home, real American adults changed their feelings about early marriage, a common practice in many parts of the world. In that post I said, "it's one thing to know 12 and 14-year-old girls are married off to significantly older men elsewhere; quite another to think about how it would play out here."

The brains behind marryourdaughter.com, John Ordover, was trying to call attention to early marriage in this country. So the website eloquently made his point. Now we have another tragic example.

In what has now become common b-roll footage on the news channels, Texas authorities removed 419 children from the Yearning for Zion ranch this month after a 16-year-old repeatedly called a local family violence shelter asking for help.

Court documents said: "Investigators determined that there is a widespread pattern and practice among the residents of YFZ ranch in which minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them." Because of what the documents called "pervasive pattern of indoctrinating and grooming" girls to accept marriage and motherhood at young ages, the authorities determined that all the girls were in danger of abuse.

When child marriage occurs in other parts of the world
, we tend to think of it as merely a common societal practice. In Texas authorities had to physically remove children because – it is becoming clear – early marriage in the United States is typically a result of brainwashing and abuse. Why would a young girl choose to enter into a marriage with a middle-aged man if she believed she had a choice? Indeed, why would she, either here or anywhere in the world?

The very thought of what the girls at Yearning for Zion ranch in Colorado were subjected to infuriates me and taps into such a deep vein of emotion that I am at a loss for words. As the mother of a girl child, it pains me deeply to think of my daughter ever having to experience such abuse. I feel the instinctive need to protect girls less privileged than mine against predators. And then my anger stems from outrage that this could happen in a country where there are clear laws and overwhelming norms of conduct that decry such practices.

Last September I noted that teenage marriage isn't likely to become part of a national debate (though the issue of unmarried teens having sex will surely continue to stand between common sense and moralistic rants). I thought that was because, in the United States, we can't seem to grasp the fact that early marriage is not about two crazy kids in love. It is both a symptom and a cause of women's lower status and the societal problems that accompany it.

While I'm happy to say that I think that we Americans now have a sense of what early marriage really entails, I'm sorry that we had to find it in our midst for this realization to occur. I'm very sorry that so many young girls were victimized before we learned the truth.

The world over, early marriage almost always means less education, more limited opportunities and usually economic insecurity for girls. Girls who marry early also have a disproportionately higher risk of maternal death. It is all horrific.

In societies where girls are married off early, the tradition tends to continue unless some dramatic social or economic changes occur. Let's hope that we've seen that dramatic change here. Let's channel our better understanding into a deeper understanding of the societal forces that constrain women and girls everywhere. To move forward, we must all feel and understand common universal realities and have the strength to transform them for women.

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  • invalid-0

    Your rush to judgment is nothing short of blind ambition, not to mention sexist. I don’t know if any FLDS member is guilty of a crime, but I stand by their innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Anecdotal evidence, including books, news stories or someone’s biography, are not evidence. If it was, you could be convicted of child molestation, after someone manufactures accounts against you. And another thing, why does the age of a male matter to you when a minor girl has sex? Isn’t a 20-year-old male just as guilty as a 50-year-old? Yet you and virtually all members of the press make this distinction, which suggests an anti-male bias against older men. Use some introspection to understand the basis of your statement. We don’t hear this anti-male rhetoric when the table is turned on older women. Read “Men for sale?” By Kathryn Knight ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/femail/article.html?in_article_id=400187&in_page_id=1879 ). Or “Older white women join Kenya’s sex tourists” By Jeremy Clarke ( http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN2638979720071126 ). There are dozens more accounts available online. I’m probably not alone, but I’m curious why it matters enough to you that you make the age distinction where the law does not?

  • invalid-0

    when an accusation of child abuse is made, the law mandates the authorities MUST act. The investigation is just beginning and evidence still has to be gathered. Individual cases are going to be in court for years,perhaps decades.
    But from interviews with the females involved,girls as young as 13 were forced to “spiritually marry” much older men.
    Now,from your defensive reaction,it’s clear you are rushing to judgement when you make accusations of “anti-male bias”.

  • invalid-0

    I do not understand how you can call any of this ‘blind’ ambtion, or anything of the sort. 13, 14, and 15 year old girls are mothering children. This is acknowledged fact, so there is nothing blind about the charges, accusations, or things being said against these people. And while the law does not make a distinction between a 20 year old man and a 50 year old man, most civilized people do. You may consider that anti-male against older men, but how can you not make a moral distinction between a 20 and a 50 year old? Both would be in the wrong for having sex with a minor, but the older one is much harder to swallow in the eyes of most people. I’m sorry if you feel that is unfair or ‘bias’, but one would assume a 50 year old would have twice as much life experience, and therefore have twice as much sense to know the difference between right and wrong (wrong being having sex with minors). Not to mention the influence age has over most young people. A young girl would be much more likely to be coerced by an older man who she may feel has authority over her, than by a young man in his twenties. Whatever the age of the man who is having sex with a minor, there is nothing right about the activity, and the fact that you are waiting to pass judgement until they are proven guilty in a court of law disturbs me when there are 13, 14, and 15 year old children carrying children.

  • http://east-of-the-equator.blogspot.com/ invalid-0

    I have just come across this blog and read a number of the posts. Let me just wish you well it this VERY worthwhile effort. I agree with temarks you’ve made elsewhere that a human rights-based approach provides the most powerful possible basis to challenge the interests currently informing US policy.

  • invalid-0

    When the Texas authorities found pregnant minors and many 14, 15 year old mothers on the FLDS ranch I think they found their proof. Younger males are ostracized and run off or abandoned in towns by this cult, (otherwise there wouldn’t be enough wives for each man to have at least three wives–a FLDS requirement for entry into heaven), so the only ones left are the middle-aged and older men.