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Girls & Women

Yes, Forced Child Marriages Happen in the US, Too

On Jan. 30, 15-year-old Maarib Al Hishmawi walked out the doors of her high school in San Antonio, Texas, and vanished.

But she wasn’t playing hooky, she was seeking freedom and safety.

In the summer of 2017, Maarib’s parents told her they had arranged for her to marry a man who had offered them $20,000, investigators said. When the teenager refused to be forced into marriage, her parents reportedly beat her, choked her, and threw hot oil on her.

So Maarib stopped protesting, the Washington Post reported.

Take Action: Tell world leaders to stop child marriage for good

Once her parents believed that she had accepted her fate, they stopped abusing her, but Maarib had a bigger plan — one that she put into action on Jan. 30.

The FBI has since found the teenager, and she and her five siblings are in the custody of child protective services, while their parents were charged with abuse, according to the Washington Post. The family had moved to the US from Iraq two years ago, the Huffington Post reported.

Shocking as it may seem — Maarib is not alone.

Thousands of children across the US face pressure to enter forced child marriages every year, and most of them are girls, PBS Frontline reported. The nonprofit Unchained At Last estimates that nearly 250,000 children were married in the US between 2000 and 2010 — some as young as 10 years old, according to PBS Frontline.

To date, no state has banned child marriage, meaning that many children can be forced to marry someone before they are ready. While several states have set the minimum age of marriage at 18, legal loopholes in every state allow children to marry before then if their parents or a judge consents to the union, or if they are pregnant.

Read more: Why Missouri Is a ‘Destination Wedding Spot’ for 15-Year-Olds

What’s not required in many of these cases is the child’s consent, meaning that children are being forced into marriages well before they are ready.

Arranged marriages are a common practice in some cultures and are not intrinsically harmful. But as soon as someone is asked to marry another person against their will, the marriage should no longer be considered arranged — it’s simply forced.

According to Unchained At Last, forced marriages are sometimes disguised as arranged marriages in the US. Precise numbers of children forced into marriages is difficult to determine, but the Tahirih Justice Center found 3,000 girls who were forced to marry, or suspected of being forced to marry, under threats of violence or ostracism between 2009 and 2010. 

Despite efforts to end child marriage, bills recently proposed in Florida, Tennessee, and Kentucky have all failed to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 without exception. But activists remain hopeful that the US will soon see its first state-level ban on child marriage.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality and women’s rights. You can take action here to call on lawmakers to put an end to child marriage and protect women and girls.