Imagine being 16 again. It’s sophomore year of high school and you’re starting to figure yourself out. But what if that all ended because your parents consented to you being married?
As crazy as this sound, this is still a rare reality in America today.
Donna Pollard was a child bride in Tennessee in 2000 — Pollard’s mother consented to her being married to a 31-year-old man when she was 16 — and lived her teenage life in Indiana, where she's now trying to change the marital consent age.
Although the age of sexual consent is 16 in Indiana, 15-year-olds can get married as long as they have parental and judicial consent. And in 2017, according to the Pollard story, “95 teens aged 15 to 17 were married. Of those, 78 were girls and 17 were boys.”
While the title “child bride” gives me visions of girls wearing frocks and milking cows on “Little House on the Prairie”, or perhaps of girls living in an impoverished third-world country, it is still very much a phenomenon in modern-day U.S., albeit an uncommon one.
Why do a small amount of American citizens continue to feel the need to marry their children to people twice or three times their age?
According to Indiana Legal Services, 17-year-olds can get married with just parental consent; however, 15- and 16-year-olds can get married with consent and a court order to issue a marriage license, but the majority of 15- and 16-year-olds are usually getting married because they are expecting or already have a child.
Typically, those under 18 can’t get married unless they have parental consent, otherwise the people involved would have to petition to a court as to why their marriage would be of the best interest.
While 95 may seem like a lot of minor marriages in 2017, Indiana is actually not one of the higher ranking states. Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia and Idaho are the states with the highest rates of minor marriages; these states also have high levels of poverty.
In addition to the poverty, these states are home to conservatives who see marriage as the solution to teens having sex and pregnancies coming out of wedlock. Some even push for marriage when a pregnancy results from a statutory rape.
While I don’t agree with it, I can understand how marrying your daughter off to hopefully get her out of poverty would be a not-completely-insane idea. But I can’t condone it if it’s totally old-school, where you trade your daughter for a flock of sheep.
However, the idea of marrying your daughter to her rapist is absurd. It shouldn’t be a matter of whether or not he got her pregnant; if she was sexually assaulted, that man should not become her husband — that would only open the floodgates to years of continuous abuse.
Organizations such as Survivors’ Corner, former-child bride Donna Pollard’s group, are attempting to raise the minimum marital age in each state. Pollard’s group, plus human rights activists like Unchained and Human Rights Watch, are also fighting to make sure a rapist isn’t allowed to marry his victim, especially if she’s a minor.
While these are good starts, more work still needs to be done in order to change the fact that 17 states don’t have a minimum age for minors to marry, because — and I feel fairly confident in saying this — no 16-year-old is every ready to get married, no matter the circumstances.
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