Rhode Island has become the latest US state to ban child marriage. It is the latest of several US states to either ban child marriage outright or overturn archaic legislation that allowed under-16s to marry.
Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee (D) signed legislation on Monday banning child marriage in his state in an effort to “protect children and prevent exploitation.”
The bill will eliminate language in Rhode Island law that allowed teens under the age of 18 to obtain marriage licenses under certain circumstances, The Associated Press reported. Previously, state law had allowed 16-year-olds to marry with permission from a parent or guardian. Children younger than 16 were also able to marry if the family court was notified and a court hearing was conducted.
Ground News website, which monitors the reporting bias of stories, rates this story as a “blind spot” for the right, with 67% of sources reporting it being “leaning left”. Certainly, reader comments on most articles show a strong left bias.
In particular, commenters seem to regard the move as a riposte to “paedophile Republicans”. But is it so?
Why are so many US states suddenly moving to ban child marriage?
Most of the laws in question are very old, reflecting a bygone era when girls, especially in rural areas, married much younger than today (often, one suspects, to cover up illegitimate pregnancies).
But the laws were almost never used for a very long time (median marriage age in most of the states concerned was mid-late 20s). They were, in effect, not unlike other long-forgotten statutes – such as the Louisiana law forbidding “obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city fire department while in the actual performance of his duty”. Or playing cards on a Saturday, in Alabama. Or the Georgia law banning selling a child under 12 to the circus.
Indeed, child marriage has steadily declined in the US. Today it is mostly very rare. Mostly.
So, what changed, to make repeal of these dusty old laws suddenly so important?
“My father introduced me to my husband-to-be one morning, and I was told I would marry him that night. That man was thirteen years my senior, 28 years old. … I was taken out of the country, raped daily and impregnated almost immediately,” Sara Tasneem of California told Rhode Island lawmakers, the Journal reported.
Although child marriage is very rare in the US today, there are some communities where it is shamefully commonplace. Those communities are minorities, perhaps – but rapidly growing minorities.
Unchained At Last is not the only activist group campaigning against child marriage. The leading group is the Tahirih Justice Center. Tahirih “aims to protect immigrant women and girls”.
In its testimony, Unchained At Last shared statistics with lawmakers that showed “32 children as young as 14 were married in Rhode Island between 2013 and 2019; 88% were girls wed to adult men; Two of those children were married at an age/spousal age difference that met the definition of a sex crime.”The Hill
Although Unchained At Last doesn’t include them, there are other, illuminating statistics.
For instance, child marriage was far more common for immigrant children. The rate among children from Mexico, Central America and the Middle East was 2-4 times that of US-born children. This reflects global trends: nearly half of sub-Saharan African women are married before 18, one-third in South Asia.
Notably, too, those states still with lenient laws on their books are regarded as “destination wedding spots” for child-marryers. Some men travel nearly 2000 miles to marry their child brides.
So child marriage in the US is mostly the province of older men marrying little girls, mostly immigrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
One can’t help but wonder if there’s a common causal link in all that.
It certainly isn’t white Republicans, no matter what leftist commenters might say.
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