America's Child Marriage Problem
October 14, 2015 2:59 PM   Subscribe

In the United States today, thousands of children under 18 have recently taken marital vows — mostly girls married to adult men, often with approval from local judges. In at least one case, a 10-year-old boy was legally married.

[T]he data show that 3,499 children were married in New Jersey between 1995 and 2012. Most were age 16 or 17 and married with parental consent, but 178 were between ages 10 and 15, meaning a judge approved their marriages.

Shockingly, 91 percent of the children were married to adults, often at ages or with age differences that could have triggered statutory-rape charges, not a marriage license. A judge in 2006 approved the marriage of a 10-year-old boy to an 18-year-old woman. A judge in 1996 allowed a 12-year-old girl to marry a 25-year-old man.


--America's Child Marriage Problem [NYTimes], Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last
posted by melissasaurus (91 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was reading about this in the home school community on Patheos not long ago: the story of Maranatha. Don't have much more to add except that every time I think I know how awful stuff is, there's always a lower place. :(
posted by mordax at 3:08 PM on October 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


178 were between ages 10 and 15, meaning a judge approved their marriages.

WHAT? OK, I am just officially fucking flabbergasted here.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:09 PM on October 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


Wait, what? Children are marrying illegally?
posted by OwlBoy at 3:16 PM on October 14, 2015


I believe the technical term for this reaction is DUBYA TEE EFF.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:16 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's absolutely crazy. I wish there were some specific details for these because my first thought is that someone must have typed something wrong in NJ_Marriages_Final2.xls
posted by theodolite at 3:17 PM on October 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


There are not enough details in the op-ed for me to understand what exactly is happening here. Hopefully someone can fill in the relevant information in this thread.
posted by cell divide at 3:18 PM on October 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


In a lot of states, pretty young teenagers can marry with parental and/or a judge's consent. (In New York, the minimum age for marriage is 18 without parental consent, 16 with parental consent, and 14 with judicial consent. In my state, the minimum age for marriage is 18 without parental consent and 16 with it. I think that getting married at 16 would not have been considered completely crazy 100 years ago, plus in the past there were plenty of not-necessarily-voluntary marriages involving a pregnant bride.) My guess: parents and kids are going to judges and saying that this is the way things are done in their culture, and judges are trying to be culturally sensitive. I am ok being culturally insensitive on this one.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:25 PM on October 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


Blaming "immigrants" in 3... 2... 1...

Oh. Wait. This isn't about Canada. Or Mormons.

Confused.
posted by clvrmnky at 3:28 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is news to me. The fix seems pretty obvious.
posted by snofoam at 3:30 PM on October 14, 2015


Parental consent-age 10
Did read article
Confused.
posted by clavdivs at 3:31 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's about ancient religious practices that get grandfathered into out modern society, hence the reference to anti-gay rhetoric pushed by Christians, including Mormons. I'll be happy to see who works to change these laws and who opposes changing them though, even churches do occasionally change their minds.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:34 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, what? Children are marrying illegally?

No, they're marrying legally, which seems to be the first part we should fix.
posted by ckape at 3:35 PM on October 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


Which states allow judges to allow fifth graders to marry?
posted by persona au gratin at 3:37 PM on October 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I hate to quote #Hamiltunes in this context, but "Everything is legal in New Jersey" now has a whole new terrible meaning for me.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:40 PM on October 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


i don't even know what to say other than I am really not okay with this at all. Just. What?
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:41 PM on October 14, 2015


Blaming "immigrants" in 3... 2... 1...

This is addressed in the op-ed.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:44 PM on October 14, 2015


Unchained at Last has a good rundown on the state-by-state minimum age of marriage laws.
posted by melissasaurus at 3:47 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is addressed in the op-ed.
Forced and child marriages happen almost everywhere, yet only 10 states or jurisdictions have specific laws that can be used to prevent or punish forced marriage. The Tahirih survey focused on immigrants, and it identified child marriages or forced marriages, or both, in immigrant communities from 56 countries of origin in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, but it also identified such marriage in so-called American families. The survey found child marriage or forced marriage, or both, in families of many faiths, including Muslim, Christian (particularly Catholic), Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh. I have seen child and forced marriage in the Orthodox Jewish community, and I know survivors from Mormon and Unification Church backgrounds.
posted by Fizz at 3:55 PM on October 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


>Blaming "immigrants" in 3... 2... 1...

This is addressed in the op-ed.


I'd actually read that paragraph as leaving the door wide open for people to blame immigrants if they are so inclined.
posted by hoyland at 3:56 PM on October 14, 2015


What if the 10-year old boy marriage was a workaround for an insurance issue? Like if you marry this kid he can get the insurance he needs for a life-threating illness?

*pulling wool over eyes and blindly feeling my way to a safe spot*
posted by macrowave at 3:56 PM on October 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


How is this a thing? How are judges allowing this?

Oh dog, the entire system is a total sham.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:59 PM on October 14, 2015


Are the judges who approved these marriages not a matter of public record? It would be interesting to see if there are a small handful of judges, perhaps ones who are known to play ball with the communities that engage in these practices, who are responsible for approving many of the marriages, or if this is straight up widespread judicial fuckuppery.
posted by telegraph at 4:05 PM on October 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


I think it's safe to say that child marriages can go next to animal sacrifice in the big bin of religious practices that will not be tolerated in America.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:07 PM on October 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


This article smells like horseshit. The anecdote about a child weeping openly in front of a helpless clerk, who wished they could do the right thing BUT THE LAW SAYS...?

That's so overheated. If this were really a thing -- 10-year-olds getting married and well-meaning clerks/judges handcuffed by legalese -- we'd have already heard about it.

This is a society that calls the police when unattended children are playing alone on playgrounds. You're telling me that we wouldn't have already seen a clerk getting interviewed by Fox News about the "illegals" marrying off their weeping children?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:15 PM on October 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


I knew a woman who was legally married at age 13. She came from Appalachia. It was common in her immediate community. She was White. Her kid went to Head Start with mine. I knew her in the '80s. We lost touch when I had to move.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:16 PM on October 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Depending on your definition of animal sacrifice, the US can and will tolerate it (which seems fine to me).

Child marriage, we should not tolerate.
posted by feckless at 4:29 PM on October 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


We still have the FLDS, which has compounds in more places than just the Utah/Arizona border.
posted by Catblack at 4:31 PM on October 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I, also, would like some details. The 10 - 14 year old marriages seem unconscionable, but I've known at least two women married at 16 or 17 and it seems to have worked out reasonably well. One (my aunt) married right after high school graduation, when she was still 17; a couple of months before she would have turned 18. I think the story was basically, "Hey, Pops, we're going to get married before summer is out anyway; I'd like to have your permission to do it the weekend we prefer." There's no coercion in that--at least no coercion from parent to child. (Now that I think about it, my grandfather was 17 when married, and had to get permission from his father, so I guess it was a bit of a family tradition.)

The sixteen-year-old was a girl in a fairly long-term romance when she became pregnant. College-age boyfriend got a job to support her and the baby, and with the approval of both sets of parents they got married and begin making a life together. Again, that was driven by the couple themselves more than the parents, but no one felt like they should hinder them if they felt it was the right thing to do. That might be old-fashioned and even ill-advised, but I don't see that anyone was being taken advantage of or making a hugely grievous error. I wonder how many of the child marriages in these statistics are circumstances like those.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:32 PM on October 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I grew up in southern Appalachia and my family has lived there for two hundred years.

I flatly refuse and reject the idea that it is a thing that is done there as anything any more common there than anywhere else. There's all kinds of screwed up things going on, but I have never, never heard of this being done.

I am only commenting to forestall any of the usual crap about my region that comes out whenever it's mentioned.
posted by winna at 4:33 PM on October 14, 2015 [42 favorites]


Fraidy Reiss, who founded the organization, is a survivor of what she calls an arranged/ forced marriage. But it's less dramatic than the weeping 10-year-old. She was 19 when she entered into an arranged marriage, and she officially consented (under enormous family and community pressure.) I don't know how common actual child marriage is in the US, but on the other hand, there are laws that allow for it, and I can't see any good reason that there should be. Even if 10-year-olds don't get married very often, is there any reason that it should be legal for a 10-year-old to get married in some states?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:34 PM on October 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin back in 1958. Seems it wasn't uncommon. But that was another place, another time.
posted by oluckyman at 4:39 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article smells like horseshit. The anecdote about a child weeping openly in front of a helpless clerk, who wished they could do the right thing BUT THE LAW SAYS...?

In the parental consent case, 16 or 17 yr. olds in NJ as discussed in the article, the clerk would be pulling some Kim Davis shit to refuse.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:40 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Barbaric cultural practices are everywhere you look.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:40 PM on October 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


In the parental consent case, 16 or 17 yr. olds in NJ as discussed in the article, the clerk would be pulling some Kim Davis shit to refuse.

a) Sixteen and 17-year-olds are very much different than weeping 10-year-olds.
b) The fact that we even know Kim Davis' name shows the power of an obstinate clerk and a camera. Why haven't we seen it, then?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:44 PM on October 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


I expect child marriage is probably trending down in the US, but what this editorial leaves me wondering is if its trending up in any geographical or social group and if so, which?
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:46 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I got married in Las Vegas, my intended and I went down to city hall to get our marriage license on a Friday night. Standing in front of us in the (long, long) line was a couple. He was graying, heavyset, weathered face. She had baby fat, a thick blonde ponytail, and a nervous expression. Both of them were wearing dark blue Wranglers and starched white button-down shirts; he had on cowboy boots, she wore white sandals with pantyhose underneath, the seams peeking out of the toes.

When they got to the counter, he pulled out documentation that provided specific approval from her guardian to get married, as she was only 15. She whispered her verbal consent that indeed, they had legal approval for her to get married.

That was fifteen years ago. I have often wondered what circumstances led that couple to get married, if the girl's life was a happy one prior to marriage, or if it was happy after the fact. She was so young.
posted by sobell at 4:47 PM on October 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


My memories of this are fuzzy because I was young and the whole thing was horrific, but to the best of my memory: When I was about 15 (I am now 51), a same-aged friend of mine got pregnant. We had lost touch shortly before this because I had changed schools, but as I recall, it happened while she was babysitting for the family of the boy she had sex with, who was 13. I think she was there to watch a younger sibling.

Her parents had always been extremely protective and very strange, and apparently, the other family was too, because their response was to arrange for these two children to get married. I was in the bridal party and had been fitted with a bright orange dress and attended a terrifying shower attended by frightened teenaged girls and angry old women, when a day or two before the wedding, the 'groom' and his father absconded and the wedding was called off.

My friend's family was a conservative suburban white middle class family all born in the US, decidedly racist and overall xenophobic, and the boy's family didn't strike me as much different. (For one, her parents would never have let her 'babysit' for a family they hadn't thoroughly vetted. One of the reasons we'd lost touch was that her parents thought I was too wild and unsupervised.)
posted by ernielundquist at 4:47 PM on October 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I cannot comprehend the bizarre mindset that a person is not old enough to be mature enough to drink, but is mature enough to get married.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:50 PM on October 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


I found this article from 2005 about a controversy about a Nebraska man who traveled to Kansas to marry the 14-year-old mother of his child and then was arrested for statutory rape when they got back. According to the article "In Kansas, five girls under 15 were married in 2003, three in 2002 and six in 2001."
A judge in Syracuse last September delayed a one-and-a-half-to-three-year prison sentence until this summer so that a 38-year-old defendant could marry a pregnant 16-year-old; in Florida in 2001, charges were reduced to a misdemeanor when a 17-year-old married the 13-year-old girl expecting their second child, and he received six months' probation.
So it looks like ten years ago, it did occasionally happen. I have no idea whether things have changed since then.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:57 PM on October 14, 2015


Yeah, because as someone approaching middle age and occasionally having to meet teenagers, the concept of marriage to them seems like a good idea since we have so many similar interests and life experiences.

Um, hamburger if it isn't obvious.

Also, since it's legal shouldn't we see some homosexual marriages going this route now? If for no other reason to call out the lunacy of this.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:01 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


My grandmother got married at 15 (but not officially, like, with a marriage certificate and everything) back around the 40s--50s. I think my grandfather was 17 or 18. But she'd run away from home already pregnant with a younger cousin in tow and the three (and eventually, four) of them just set up shop and started living as a family on their own with no adult relatives still on the scene, as I understand it. So totally different kind of scene. This is absurd and shocking, if it's not somehow overblown or misrepresenting the facts... I have worried that judges have too much latitude in our legal system on other occasions, but even so, I find it hard to believe anyone would, for instance, wed a 10 year old boy to an 18 year old woman in the US today. The idea any US judge would knowingly participate in a forced marriage is horrendous, but it feels a little like somebody might be trying to build a basis for a pro-Kim Davis argument with this coming to light now, too, so I'm nonplussed (second time in the last ten minutes or so I've needed that word for unrelated reasons).
posted by saulgoodman at 5:09 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The minimum bar for marriage should at least be having obtained legal emancipation for more than six months before marriage, and I'd prefer a 16 y.o minimum (with spouse under two years difference in age) or 18 y.o. minimum otherwise.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:10 PM on October 14, 2015


Hell, I'd set the age at 25. I'm only halfway kidding.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:16 PM on October 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


I cannot conceive of any moral or ethical necessity for a child under 16 to marry anyone, pregnancy or no. If this is happening, I want these judges allowing this named and the laws changed as well.

In an ideal world, marriage age would be 21, but all kinds of assistance would be there for couples living together/raising kids younger than that, because it's bound to happen. And if they still want to be together at 21, they can be.
posted by emjaybee at 5:19 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I was little (like around 6-8) I made friends at church with a girl who was a year or two older than I was. At some point around 9 or 10 her family moved away, or maybe they just started going to a different church or something, who knows.

A couple years later they resurfaced, maybe moved back, maybe got sick of the other church, again, who knows. My friend was now a seventh grader. Middle school had happened, and we had grown apart pretty significantly (one of the few exchanges from this period that I remember involved her making fun of something I was wearing), so we never became as close as we once were. I didn't have a chance to find out how her family was treating her, what her non-church friends were like, or what all was going on with her.

About six months later, she became the first of my friends to get married. I have no idea how much older her husband was, but I know it happened because she got pregnant.
posted by Sara C. at 5:22 PM on October 14, 2015


My aunt from Viginia was engaged by twelve, married 2 months before her 14th birthday. She had 4 children by age 19, one more on the way.

I only met her once in the 70s' and that was a different era. She was raised by the woman across the road, this woman's father served in the civil war, he was 43, her mother 14 when they married, circa 1880. She was 90 when I met her, showed me her father's sword and flag. "Torn First Yankee to touch that, boy, seems history might just deem tradition to make an exception for you"

I relate this story because for an 11 year old, it was like stepping back in time but not any sence of backwardness. My aunts daughters married at 18, one was 16.
posted by clavdivs at 5:30 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like many in this thread, it's hard to imagine that this is as prevalent as the op-ed makes it out to be. Anonymized statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. (Though I don't suppose I'm suggesting that the name of the ten-year-old newlywed should be public knowledge. I can see both sides of that.)

And the history of it strikes me as mostly explicable — if you've got a 14-year-old signing a marriage license, odds are that she got pregnant and both sets of parents saw this as the least scandalous option. Surely the “logic” was that anyone who was old enough to sire or bear children was old enough to enter into a covenant in the eyes of God. I mean, that's fucked up, but we already knew that the past was fucked up.

In the year 2015, though, it's hard for me to understand how archaic attitudes towards marriage can survive. I mean, regardless of how it plays out in practice, these days even wacko fundamentalist Christians seem to talk about marriage as a meeting of equals. Isn't there an age before which it just makes no goddamn sense even to pretend that this is an informed choice?

I am all for, at the very least, harmonizing age-of-marriage laws with age-of-consent laws. Surely we can get 99% of people behind that. Once that happens, though, it still has to be decided what to do in the rare case that two eighth-graders get themselves in a whole heap of trouble. Personally I don't have a problem with telling both sets of parents, “Hey, work out amongst yourselves how you're going to raise the kid, hold whatever ceremony you want at an altar of your choice, but no way am I going to let the state recognize a marriage between a 14-year-old and a 13-year-old.”
posted by savetheclocktower at 5:41 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Hell, I'd set the age at 25. I'm only halfway kidding.

And I'll go ya five better. Thirty.
posted by notreally at 5:45 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


What does the bride's choice in footwear have to do with anything? Pantihose and sandals--the horror! I don't know why these sorts of FFPs draw so many comments that are really anecdotes.
Anyway, there's quite a few sources around (I wish Op-eds had footnotes or linked sources):
Tahirih Justice Center, Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States: 2011 National Survey Results, 2011 (This also points out that quite a number of the marriages don't occur in the US and thus are not registered. Fundamentalist LDS would also not be registered marriages.)
Child Marriage in the United States and Its Association With Mental Health in Women
According to these studies, child marriage isn't common in Appalachia.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:48 PM on October 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


10? I got married when I was 6, to Michelle Cross, in the playground of our primary school. I even kissed her! These kids need to up their marrying game.

More seriously, this is shocking.
posted by marienbad at 5:51 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even the wacko fundamentalist Christians will go the shotgun marriage route if their thirteen year old becomes sexually active. They'll slather it with all kinds of language about God's plan, and of course it will retroactively be framed as an absolutely above-board marriage between equals who would have been encouraged to marry anyway. Add on some "wise beyond her years", "age is nothing but a number", etc. faux open-mindedness, and by the time she's twenty and has a couple more kids, everyone in the community has forgotten how this marriage started.

I'm pretty sure marriage under 14 is exceedingly rare, but to make it out to be something that only happens among freaky fundamentalist Others (especially if we're trying to point fingers at recent immigrants, for which read brown people) is really not on. This is definitely something white American-born people living relatively mainstream lives have done.
posted by Sara C. at 5:54 PM on October 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I also question the article, too much emotion and vague statements, not enough hard data...

"...Unfortunately, the available records do not include any identifying details about marriages beyond the ages of the participants. Nevertheless....". This is weak sauce here....This is the type of data that can be used to make points for both sides of an argument.

"Shockingly, 91 percent of the children were married to adults..." A 17 year old getting married to an 18 year old fits this criteria...I'm not sure we should get out the torches and pitchforks in those situations, but, here they are, lumped in to make a case... well, I think that's what's happening, but, in reality, we don't know, do we...?

"Based on my own experience working with forced-marriage victims across the United States, I am sure....." This isn't data.....

"Still, the state data show that in 2011 alone, a 14-year-old married a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old was wed to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old was wed to a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old married someone age “35 to 39.” All of those marriages were approved by New York judges." The problem here is that there are four cases...and we have no information as to why these judges made this decision.... it might be relevant in some manner to determining if, although we have time imagining it, there was a logical reason for such decisions.

Marriage is a legal contract and it should be reserved for adults.... I kept expecting this sentence to end with..."of the same race, of opposite genders, of the same religion..."

Unchained at Last, a nonprofit I founded.... somehow I was waiting for the plea for donations....

Don't get me wrong, forced marriage shouldn't happen, children shouldn't be exploited, but I'm not certain that the writer of the article wasn't conflating a number of issues/situations to make a case that may not have applied to all of them.
posted by HuronBob at 6:13 PM on October 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Mitrovarr: "I cannot comprehend the bizarre mindset that a person is not old enough to be mature enough to drink, but is mature enough to get married."

Seems minor compared to allowing 18-20 year olds to serve in the military but not drink.

Ideefixe: "I don't know why these sorts of FFPs draw so many comments that are really anecdotes. "

Because this is a web forum and not some peer reviewed journal.
posted by Mitheral at 6:18 PM on October 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


"Still, the state data show that in 2011 alone, a 14-year-old married a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old was wed to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old was wed to a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old married someone age “35 to 39.” All of those marriages were approved by New York judges." The problem here is that there are four cases...and we have no information as to why these judges made this decision.... it might be relevant in some manner to determining if, although we have time imagining it, there was a logical reason for such decisions.
I'm struggling a bit to come up with any reason that would justify the judge making those decisions. What, to your mind, would be a good reason to allow a 14-year-old to marry a 26-year-old?

I'm ok with changing the law to have a minimum age for marriage even if it only does prevent 4 really abusive marriages every year.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:32 PM on October 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


What, to your mind, would be a good reason to allow a 14-year-old to marry a 26-year-old?

Sorry, a typo in my comment.. It should have said "we have a HARD time imagining it..."

So, in answer to your question, I have no clue, but, the writer didn't either yet used those cases to make a point... My problem is how data, information, stories were used in the article...
posted by HuronBob at 6:46 PM on October 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ten-year-old me would have been turned on by the idea of registering at Toys R Us and a Chuck E Cheese bachelor party.
posted by dr_dank at 6:50 PM on October 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know why these sorts of FFPs draw so many comments that are really anecdotes.

Since I contributed one, I'll explain mine. People often talk about child marriages as having been common in America's past. It can activate people's nostalgia-for-the-good-old-days circuit to hear that kind of talk, and so they might also start to feel that getting married worked out okay for old Aunt and Uncle so-and-so, so maybe it's all just fine or even kind of sweet. But it's not, really, especially when there are big power differentials, force, or coercion involved. So I offered a counter-example to the picturesque narratives of the good old days to illustrate that a lot of the younger people who married in those days were forced to in order to be accepted by society and to be allowed to have any economic opportunity at all, whether they grew over their lifetimes to love each other or not. My anecdote was a subtle political act, and also a way of relating to the subject in a perfectly normal, personal way. Can't speak for anybody else who offered an anecdote, but they may have had similar motives or not.

Definitely can't imagine any good explanation for these marriages. Somebody objected to marrying gay people to the point of going to jail over it, but meanwhile, marriages like these were going ahead without comment?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:07 PM on October 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


How about this -- if you record your consummation and the video file can get you put away for child pornography, put marriage off for a while. Really.

And pick your own damn ducks.
posted by delfin at 7:10 PM on October 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


What does the bride's choice in footwear have to do with anything? Pantihose and sandals--the horror!

Because that is an anecdote from the story designed to be evocative. The author chose to describe what the couple was wearing to flesh out the imagery, which included the couple wearing identical outfits, with the exception of their footwear. And her choice in footwear is a little bit strange fashion-wise. It does seem like the sort of thing a very young girl might wear dressing up.

I don't know why these sorts of FFPs draw so many comments that are really anecdotes.

Because a lot of other comments are expressing incredulity and asking why and how things like this happen, so people who have experiences with it are responding by providing examples.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:23 PM on October 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


Since the article singles out Catholics as being part of this problem, I wonder how much the numbers are skewed by Travellers. They are a very Catholic, very tight-knit community that holds on to some pretty old-fashioned ideas about the role of women.
posted by TedW at 7:23 PM on October 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


oluckyman: "Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin back in 1958. Seems it wasn't uncommon. But that was another place, another time."

Actually, it was a huge scandal, even back then.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:36 PM on October 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


The mention of Catholics is in the bit referring to the Tahirih survey.
Religious backgrounds specifically identified by respondents are listed below, with the numbers of respondents identifying them given in parentheses: Muslim (85); Christian (29) (which includes Catholic (15), Baptist (1), Evangelical (1), and Jehovah’s Witness (1)), Hindu (16), Buddhist (8), Sikh (3), Jewish (2), Indigenous Faith (1), and Shamanism(1). Respondents also answered Hmong (2) to this question.
And countries w/ five or more, whole list is lengthy:
India (39), Pakistan (39), Mexico (28), Bangladesh (14), the Philippines (12), Afghanistan (9), Somalia (9), Yemen (9), Burma (8), Guinea (6), Sudan (6), Bhutan (5), China (5), Iraq (5), Nepal (5), Russia (5), Thailand (5)
"Respondents" were service agencies and research was targeted to forced marriage in immigrant populations. Catholics are the most prominent Christians, though worldwide roughly half of Christians are Catholic.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:47 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]



Hell, I'd set the age at 25. I'm only halfway kidding.
posted by Mitrovarr


I was 23, 17 years ago (on the 24th) when I married my husband. Not all young marriages are bad.

Hell, my parents would fit into this story, Mom was three weeks shy of 17 when she married Dad. They'll be married 41 years on the 26th.

One of my dearest friend's Mom got married at 13. Her husband was 16. They were married 44 years before he passed away.

I'm not saying teenage marriage is the smartest thing, but I imagine most of them are like my family and friends or the people I know, young, but close to 18, and they have all stood the test of time.

As for a 10-year-old in the USA getting married, there has to be more to the story. This editorial is pretty light on evidence.
posted by SuzySmith at 7:53 PM on October 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hell, my parents would fit into this story, Mom was three weeks shy of 17 when she married Dad. They'll be married 41 years on the 26th.

One of my dearest friend's Mom got married at 13. Her husband was 16. They were married 44 years before he passed away.

Well, it's a different world today. Nearly everyone goes to college and tries to start a career, and being married can encumber your choice of college and early career to a significant degree. College also changes you, and it seems like a bad idea to get married before a change of that magnitude.

It's also lunacy for most people to try to start a family before that age, these days. There's no way, unless you started rich or went into the military, you'll be able to afford it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:10 PM on October 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jeez I thought my parents were young when they got married at 21 (Dad) and 20. But 52 years on all is still good. My sister and I both waited until 30. Both divorced. Both remarried and very happy. This is just anecdata but I think there was a mentality during the 80s when we were in high school that you just didn't get married before at least 30. I'm not sure in retrospect how healthy that is.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 8:17 PM on October 14, 2015


I remember a case in Australia where the teenage couple got pregnant and wanted to marry and the judge refused permission, basically saying that they had enough on their plate being teen parents without compounding the issue by marrying so young. I thought that was a good decision. But then health coverage etc wasn't an issue for them.

This is just anecdata but I think there was a mentality during the 80s when we were in high school that you just didn't get married before at least 30. I'm not sure in retrospect how healthy that is.

Yep, my peer group got married really late (mid thirties mostly) and so did people 5-15 years older than us but if you look at ten years younger than us they are marrying much earlier. Who knows, maybe their kids will be horrified by marriage at 25 and will leave it to 40. I get weird looks from people in their early 20s when I announce that I'm still way too young to get married.
posted by kitten magic at 8:24 PM on October 14, 2015


The bride's footware comment is meant to show that the writer feels superior to these hicks getting married in Vegas. Why not throw in the can of Copenhagen in the groom's pocket, too?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:25 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


My aunt from Viginia was engaged by twelve, married 2 months before her 14th birthday. She had 4 children by age 19, one more on the way.

When I was in college, I worked at a fast-food restaurant for the summer. I was 19, and I worked with a 19-year-old who had five children. When she was 13, IIRC, she got involved with a man who was in his early 20s. She wasn't pregnant, but her parents decided that the best way to deal with it was to let her marry him, which they thought would make him be all responsible and committed to her. They had five kids in six years, and then he split.

I agree with people who say that child marriage is most likely not a common thing. On the other hand, it should pretty clearly be a never thing, so even though I didn't care for the tone of some of the op-ed ("so-called American families," really?) I'm pretty comfortable agreeing that marriage with judicial consent shouldn't be possible for kids under the age of parental consent.
posted by not that girl at 8:34 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I cannot comprehend the bizarre mindset that a person is not old enough to be mature enough to drink, but is mature enough to get married.

Wisconsin, along with 28 other states, allows underage people to drink alcohol in the presence of their parents or legal spouse and, I believe, the server. This exception is widely understood to be a way to let underage brides and grooms drink at their weddings and deal with age disparities among married couples. Of course we have the highest binge drinking rates, most taverns per capita, etc. so there you go.
posted by carmicha at 9:06 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


oluckyman: "Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin back in 1958. Seems it wasn't uncommon. But that was another place, another time."

Actually, it was a huge scandal, even back then.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:36 PM on October 14


It's definitely notable enough that the two things every Gen-X-er knows about him is that he set a piano on fire one time and married his (13 year old) cousin. I think oluckyman was making a joke, however.
posted by mcrandello at 10:10 PM on October 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Shockingly, 91 percent of the children were married to adults, often at ages or with age differences that could have triggered statutory-rape charges, not a marriage license. A judge in 2006 approved the marriage of a 10-year-old boy to an 18-year-old woman. A judge in 1996 allowed a 12-year-old girl to marry a 25-year-old man.

Could have triggered? Could have triggered? I thought the key to statutory rape laws was that consent is not a mitigating factor. Perhaps they could have tried charging the adults with kidnapping?
posted by three blind mice at 12:32 AM on October 15, 2015


I'd oppose raising the marriage age above 18 for the sole reason that marriage determines immigration rights for low-skilled people. It's unfair to tell 18 year olds who fall in love while traveling, doing an exchange program, working as an au pair, etc. that they cannot stay together.

There is a case for requiring legal marriage renewals say ever 3 years between 18 and say 25 to 30, so that if you get married at 18 but later break up, then the marriage simply expires.

I'd oppose an 18 year olds actually becoming pregnant of course, but presumably that should be handled with tax funded university education, contraception, abortions, and family counseling, not by actually outlawing it.

Also, there are occasionally young teenagers who successfully sue the state to prove they're already an adult, independent from their parents, etc., presumably the rare underage marriage could be handled in that way. It should however require the teen prove that they're already successfully independent of their parents. It's crazy to base underage marriage on parental consent because that's simply giving the religious nut jobs free reign.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:38 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Pretty far back in the past, even some religious movements in the U.S. objected to child marriage. From an 1895 NYT article "Purity Congress Meets":
...He declared, further, that this society had urgent need to pronounce itself on the subject of the so-called age of consent laws. Girls are deemed capable of controlling property only at their majority, but States decide not so with their persons. In four States the age of consent is fixed at the shockingly low age of ten years, in four others at twelve, in three at thirteen, and so on, increasing, except in Delaware, where the original statute pertaining to the crime of rape is still unrepealed, fixing the age at seven years. These so-called age of consent statutes, which discriminate against girlhood and favor immoral men, are a disgrace to the several States of the Union.
posted by XMLicious at 4:19 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had wait to turn 18 to get a parental consent waiver (earlier you also needed a judicial waiver) to get married the first time at 18 to someone a decade older who ended up as a court judge, amusingly enough. My bitter bitter experience is that the kind of good and wonderful marriages that come out of early marriages would be the kind of people willing to wait until the person they say they love turns 21. The rest of them want someone young enough to control.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:54 AM on October 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was never a fan of young marriage, but I'm also not a fan of laws that have a (hypothetical) judge spending the morning turning a 17-year old into a sex offender for having naked pictures of themselves on their phone, and then in the evening stuffing dollar bills into the G-string of a 18-year old single mother. Seems the transition to adulthood could be a little smoother, legally speaking, and if a judge can smooth that out it's fine with me (except for the 10 and 12 year old marriages, wtf)

To play devil's advocate: People also get married at a young age to escape abusive families.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:17 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


In New Hampshire, the rule has been since I was a kid that you can get married at 13 (for girls) and 14 (boys) with a judge's permission, 16 with parent permission, 18 otherwise. I know a few people who took the state up on this particular law. It is not that uncommon especially in more rural areas, as far as I know. I don't think it's any more or less likely to happen now than it was 100 years ago. For every 13 year old girl getting married there's probably someone whose first marriage is at age 60.
posted by SassHat at 6:27 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


More than a few couples in my parents' generation were marriages between boys 18 and over and girls around 17 or a bit younger. It wasn't that uncommon. I don't come from a particularly religious background, and we're as Anglo-Saxon as they come. However, I don't think it's much of a coincidence that most of those couples aren't married anymore.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:30 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I mean, I got married at 23 pretty much purely for immigration reasons. I can't imagine any situation where anyone under eighteen would need to do likewise. I'm in favor of either straight up raising the legal marriage age to eighteen or requiring that marrying teens be legally emancipated from parents before being allowed to marry. Marriage is a step that I don't think makes any sense for legal dependants to be entangled in.

Raising marriage age to twenty five obviously makes me raise some eyebrows though. Guys, do keep in mind that not all parents are particularly supportive or good at actual parenting. There's this weird dichotomy about the young where people simultaneously call for legal restrictions on what we can do and then complain when early twenty somethings don't consider themselves "real" adults. If you curtail economic and legal freedoms in name of protecting the young from their mistakes, you can't then expect them to see themselves as fully independent.
posted by sciatrix at 6:39 AM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]


The WCTU's purity crusade was about raising the common law age of consent in rape cases, not child marriage.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:39 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think that's the especially bizarre thing, the 17 year old to can't take naked pictures of themselves, but is somehow considered competent enough to enter into a marriage? A theoretically life-long contract? It doesn't make any sense. We have it reversed. (Same goes for prosecuting young teens as adults).

I know of a few younger than 18 marriages, both in my family's past and two highschool classmates. 2/3 were to get out of unhappy/abusive family homes and one was arranged. I wasn't clsed to the classmate in the arranged marriage, so I don't know how her family life was (I don't think the husband was too much older than her, at least). The family member's marriage was OK, but my highschool friend traded one unhappy house for another (husband was also about 10 years older), and had kids soon after marriage, leaving her feeling even more trapped (wasn't a shotgun marriage, she really was just trying to get away from her mother).

So allowing younger marriage isn't necessarily going to provide a true escape from an abusive situation. Especially since you're relying on 1) probably the abusive family members permission (and obviously they can't be counted on to have the best judgement) and 2) a young person who doesn't have a good model for healthy relationships to pick a partner. So I suspect that as a general rule you're going to see more of a continuation of the dynamic rather than a true escape from abuse.

If anything, it points to the failure of our society to adequately protect children: you shouldn't have to get married to escape an abusive home (or get adequate medical care, or whatever other theoretical situation where child marriage is somehow supposedly in the child's best interest).

And I guess I'm in the boat of I don't care if it rarely happens, it just shouldn't be legally possible for someone under the age of 18 to get married, regardless of who says "No, really, in this case it's fine!" Maybe a few good marriages are delayed a bit, but as a general rule I don't feel teenagers should be entering into life-long commitments and I'd rather err on the side of caution.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:21 AM on October 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


A judge in 1996 allowed a 12-year-old girl to marry a 25-year-old man.

I would really love to know how many, if any, requests for such marriages were declined by judges.
posted by theora55 at 7:43 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, I got married at 23 pretty much purely for immigration reasons. I can't imagine any situation where anyone under eighteen would need to do likewise.
There thousands of minors who are refugees from violence and/or poverty in their own countries. Many came here without their parents.
posted by soelo at 7:43 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Right, but if they're refugees, shouldn't they (in theory) be eligible for legal resident/citizenship based on that refugee status? Do they need to marry US citizens immediately (i.e., before turning 18) in order to attain citizenship or legal residency here? If they do, that's a compounded level of horrifying, not a good use of legal marriage.

Our immigration system is incredibly fucked up, but I would push towards reforming the absurd hoops it takes to jump through to qualify for refugee status before I pushed for retaining the ability of minors to marry US citizens legally for immigration reasons. And I say that as someone with some intimate experience with the bullshit hoops immigrants have to jump through.
posted by sciatrix at 8:36 AM on October 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes we should fix the immigration process, but you said you can't imagine any situation where a minor would need to marry a citizen. If it is a choice between waiting for immigration reform in a detention center and a marriage to a family friend, I think that qualifies as such a situation.
posted by soelo at 8:58 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


In New Hampshire, the rule has been since I was a kid that you can get married at 13 (for girls) and 14 (boys) with a judge's permission, 16 with parent permission, 18 otherwise. I know a few people who took the state up on this particular law. It is not that uncommon especially in more rural areas, as far as I know. I don't think it's any more or less likely to happen now than it was 100 years ago. For every 13 year old girl getting married there's probably someone whose first marriage is at age 60.

I live in and grew up in New Hampshire and I have to say that I've never even heard of anyone who got married at 13, nor at 14 as the article mentions is legal in New York. Not to say that it doesn't happen but I would be surprised if there's any place in the state where it's "not that uncommon".

I don't know whether marriage ages have changed but the state is radically different from what it was like a hundred years ago, when for example there were communities that didn't speak English - even in the 1990s there was still a French book store in Manchester, the largest city, and a French section of the city library.
posted by XMLicious at 10:15 AM on October 15, 2015


I know a woman who got married at 14, and it was a tremendous good in her life, removing her from awful family abuse. I also know a woman who got married at 16 (to a much older man), and she was still kind of ticked about how much the judge asked about whether she wasn't being coerced. Both remain happily married decades later.

So while I'm all for raising the marriage age to at least 30 (heck, I'm finally going to try it for the first time at 44), I recognize that my personal experience doesn't work for everyone, even everyone in my educated US community.
posted by ldthomps at 11:46 AM on October 15, 2015


My sister-in-law married at 16, and she had to get her father's permission. I believe her husband was 21. They waited about 5 years before having children. Most of the reason she wanted to get married was to get away from her dad, who wasn't physically or emotionally abusive, just kind of a selfish dick. They divorced after about 10 years of marriage.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:00 PM on October 15, 2015


Warning! Warning! Warning! Anecdotes Ahead!

The aunt I am named after met her husband on the playground. She was 12 he was 17 and they married when she turned 16. They had a bad marriage and he often hit her. She died a few years ago and to this day some of her family believe her husband killed her.

The youngest daughter of my mom's BFF was 15 when she got a crush on a 30 year old minister who lived across the street. We all laughed at her because just a few months before she had had a crush on some teen idol. The weird thing is that he started paying attention to her and they began courting. He would come over and tuck her in bed at night. The day she turned 16 he married her with her mom's very reluctant agreement. They were married for 25 years and had 5 kids when he dropped dead of a stroke. I knew him before their courtship and it always disturbed me that he set out to woo and marry a 15 year old but he was very religious and I think he wanted to marry an "innocent" that he could train to be his perfect wife.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:32 PM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


Who are you folks who hypothetically want to raise the marriage age to 21 or 25 or 30? Why? Didn't we just have a big national conversation about how marriage is an important and fundamental right? Or are you actually saying you don't think people should be having kids until that age (in spite of the fact that we have all agreed recently that marriage and child rearing are not actually the same thing)? Again, why? What business is it of yours?

Physically it's a lot easier on most women to have a child at 20 than at 30, and for people who want big families -- well, you can't really do that if you're waiting until 30 to start. I am a working mom who had my first child at 30 after getting my frickin' PhD, but those are my life choices. I have a cousin who has wanted nothing more than to be a stay at home mom her whole life. I'm happy for her, that she's been able to achieve that. To me, people's educations and financial situations as they go into parenthood are their own business.

I do not believe children under 16 should be getting married at all, but that's mostly because I believe there's a consent issue. These children are too vulnerable, physically and economically, to coercion and manipulation from parents and older significant others, to meaningfully consent, just like they can't meaningfully consent to sex with an adult.

Sixteen and seventeen year olds are still vulnerable, but more likely to know their own minds. Ideally I would want there to be not just a parental consent requirement, but some kind of requirement that the kid be informed of the possibility of emancipation and offered a place to go, so that if the marriage is something that is being forced on them by their parents, they have some other option. On the other hand, if a kid this age really wants to get married, and is not being coerced in any way by anyone, I do think they should be able to. Kids at this age are making all kinds of other choices that will have consequences for the rest of their lives, earning money, and frequently are having sex already. If they really want to get married and the adults responsible for looking out for their best interests are okay with it, I think it is only humane to let them.

People over the age of 18 are adults, legally, capable of signing contracts and of supporting themselves and of consenting to sex with other legal adults. What possible justification could there be for denying them the right to marry?
posted by OnceUponATime at 10:26 AM on October 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I personally think it's foolish for people go marry before 25, but I wouldn't want to legislate it or anything.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 AM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of it is tongue in cheek. But to the extent it's serious I think it's a bit like seat belt or helmet laws,which do apply to people over 18 who are generally considered able to choose their own life risks and precautions. I think it's about the idea that marriage has an impact larger than the one on the individual and society has a stake in reducing harm.

I don't think that's completely nuts but in my opinion it's a little wrong headed. Not that divorce is as easy as it should be,even in a simple situation, but the strongest potential for coercive and potentially abusive situations comes not from marriage itself (any more, now that women can hold jobs, property, and contact in our own name and no fault divorce is legal in all states) but from financial (inter)dependence and shared children.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:08 PM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


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