Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of the survivor-led nonprofit Unchained at Last, which is dedicated to ending child and forced marriage in the US, which is shockingly still legal in 39 states. But, recently more states have started to ban the practice, which Reiss calls a human rights abuse. Here, Reiss, who is a survivor of child marriage herself, answers five questions about the human-rights abuse and how we can help end it. 

What is one thing people should know about child marriage?

There are some human rights abuses that we all agree are terrible, but we might not be able to solve them in our lifetime. Child marriage in California is a human rights abuse that not only can we solve in our lifetime, but we can solve it this year.

What is your personal connection to child marriage?

I am a forced marriage survivor. I was forced to marry as a teen to a stranger who turned out to be violent, and [was] then trapped in an abusive, forced marriage for 15 years. And that’s why I have dedicated my life to ending forced and child marriage.

Why is child marriage bad for young girls?

Child marriage produces devastating, lifelong repercussions, particularly for girls — [regarding] her health, her education, her economic opportunities. It makes it much more likely that she will experience physical and sexual violence within that marriage. 

What should people know about child marriage in California?

It is shocking and horrifying that the marriage age right now in California is zero. A parent and/or a judge can enter a child of any age into marriage with no real input from the child, and with no real recourse for a child who does not want to marry.

What gives you hope that we can end child marriage?

As of 2015, when we at Unchained started this national movement, child marriage, or marriage before age 18, was legal in all 50 US states. And to date, we have helped to end child marriage in 11 US states — which means only 39 to go.

Global Citizen Asks

Demand Equity

Meet the Woman Working to End Child Marriage in the US

By Beth Greenfield