In the United States, child marriage and forced marriage have been a little-known, open secret for decades. Faithwire recently reported on the issue, leaving many unaware readers in shock.
In a series of public reports released late last month, an immediate call to action to end the forced marriage of young children to older men in America made headlines. Faithwire spoke with Fraidy Reiss of Unchained at last, an organization dedicated to helping women escape arranged and forced marriage, to further explore the issue.
According to Reiss, forced marriages can actually happen at any age. That said, most of the phone calls she receives are from women in their teens and early twenties who are trying to find ways to escape a marriage they wanted nothing to do with, but were forced into. For Reiss, each and every case hits close to home, because she was in an arranged marriage when she was just a teenager.
If my own parents and my own family don’t think I deserve better, do I really deserve better? Maybe its ok what is happening to me?
At the age of 19, Reiss’s family forced her to marry a man a few years older than her because they believed it was “best” and necessary. After 15 long years and the birth of two children, she was finally able to break free when she obtained a divorce. Her decision to leave, however, came with heavy consequences.
When speaking with Faithwire, she stated that, living in the arranged marriage was difficult everyday. Even after she explained to her immediate family that her husband was abusive, a reality that’s all too common for women who are married as children and in arranged marriages.
So basically, “…I know that feeling of betrayal. ‘How can my own family do this to me? And that feeling of doubt, if my own parents and my own family don’t think I deserve better, do I really deserve better? Maybe its ok what is happening to me?'”
In some cases, Reiss stated that girls have turned to suicide attempts, acts of self-harm and/or decision to just give up because the difficulty that comes with trying to escape becomes to overpowering.
To advocate for these men and women on a national stage, Reiss is partnering with state governments to create protective legislation.
Recently the non-profit helped write a bill that would end child marriage in the state of New Jersey. If this bill gets approved by the governor, it will be the first in the U.S. to end child marriage.
Other states working with the organization include Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and Missouri. And earlier this month, another organization by the name of Tahirih Justice Center worked tirelessly in the state of Texas to introduce a bill that would end most marriages before the age of 18.
According to Human Rights Watch, the current child marriage epidemic is comparable to the Middle Eastern nations of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Reiss concurred, saying “It’s shocking that 27 states, more than half are on the same level as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.”
“No child in the U.S. should be forced into a child marriage.”
BOYS AND MEN
Women are not the only ones who are victims of forced and child marriage. There are also concerns over the amount of young men and even boys being married off or partaking in forced marriage, as the State Department reported that roughly 15 percent of documented cases involve male victims.
Reiss has had limited interaction with male victims, explaining that calls do happen but her main focus remains helping whoever is on the end of that line. “We do get calls from boys and men…and we see in the data that we retrieve there are only a few cases. But you know, every life matters and every child matters.”
“In the community I grew up in, the Orthodox Jewish community, this is happening to men also. My husband was only three years older than me when we got married and he was also young and he didn’t have much more of a say in marrying me than I had in marrying him. So he was very much a victim of the system as much as I was. The difference though that I can say is that of course these situations are as dramatic and terrible for men as they are for women and girls (but) women and girls face additional obstacles.”
In the Orthodox Jewish community, women are not allowed to divorce their husband. For Reiss, that was a huge obstacle.
Now that she has been shunned from her religious community, she is free to talk about the torment that she experienced and her devotion to the cause of helping others out of their forced marriage.
If you know of someone who is in a forced marriage or child marriage, please contact the State Department or Unchained at last.
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