We are accustomed to thinking that some anachronistic and demeaning customs no longer belong to our Western culture. We look at the rest of the world, especially at the poor countries, with a sense of superiority and detachment, boasting about being the best, and we do not realize that basic rights are often violated also where we live. Until a few days ago, for example, we believed that the shameful phenomenon of child brides was just a heritage that belonged only to nations such as Qatar and Bangladesh, where thousands of women and girls live under the yoke of their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Yet, that is not the case.
A few days ago, the State of Virginia (USA) has abolished the law that allowed the parents of minors to impose (or agree to) shotgun marriages when the girl is pregnant. The new law came into force at the beginning of July and set an age limit for the wedding: 18 years as a rule, 16 in cases when the teenager can prove to have legally emancipated from the family of origin (and with the authorization of the judge). It fixes a phenomenon that, according to The Independent, involved about 4,500 youngsters from 2004 to 2013 in Virginia, including 200 teenagers under 15. A slap in the face of innocence.
Other States adopted the ban – the result of a long struggle carried forward by activists for human rights – this year: California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. The court will study every single case, without taking into account factors such as an early pregnancy or the opinion of the girl’s parents, Washington Post explains. In fact, the law that was previously in force in Virginia considered these factors, thus allowing people who sexually abused minors to “get away with it simply marrying their victims”, according to the denunciation of the associations. This was the case of a high school girl raped by her teacher. The latter avoided any kind of troubles persuading the girl’s parents to allow him to marry her. “It was the second time he resorted to this strategy- stressed Jill Holtzman Vogel, Republican senator who supported the law together with the democratic Jennifer McClellan – The first one ended in divorce. Now that he is married – he added – there is no crime anymore. The girl left school. He has ruined her life.”
According to statistics, brides are 50% more likely to abandon studies, 25% more likely not to attend college. Besides, their chance to get pregnant at an early age increases a lot. Besides, the activists explain, the risk of suffering domestic violence is three times higher for these girls than for the others. In the US, the law on marriage varies depending on the State and there are still six States where young people under the age of 16 are allowed to marry. A few months ago, Coby Persin – a Youtube star – has launched a provocative campaign against early marriage: Times Square, a 65-year-old man and his 12-year-old “bride” pose for the customary pictures under the eyes of the incredulous tourists and passers-by. “Citizens cannot stand that a girl marry a man older than her – Persin pointed out – and no one else should.”