Opinion: Horror behind the veil – forced marriages in America


Kaitlynn Dibblee

Forced marriages can put extreme mental and physical pressure on individuals.

Kaitlynn Dibblee, Writer

Forced marriage is normally considered to be a third world issue, that children being married off so young is not apart of American culture. In reality, the opposite is true. About 250,000 children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Some of them were only 12 years old. Almost all were young girls being married to men over 18.

In America, rape is considered illegal and in some cases leads to life in prison. In certain states, sexual relations between a minor and someone over 18 is also considered rape, even if the minor consents. However, there is no minimum age limit for marriage in America. This means as long as parental permission is given, a minor can marry an adult. This also means that parents can force their children to get married, and the child can not file for a divorce until they are 18. That child, who never consented to the marriage, is trapped in a situation where they can be raped, but no punishment will fall on the perpetrator.  

However, forced or arranged marriage does not fall only on children. The parents of Fraidy Reiss arranged for her a marriage at 19, and at first, she happily obliged. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. Being single was something that was looked down upon, and arranged marriages were common and even expected. Fraidy Reiss was too scared to fight back, with the pressure of her family, friends and her entire community weighing down on her. Her marriage ended up being abusive, and because of her limited rights laid down by her community’s religious laws, she could not leave. After 12 years of living in fear, she broke free, gaining legal custody of her two daughters and fleeing. Her family disowned her, going so far as to declare her dead. 

Through all the horrors of her life, Reiss persevered. She founded Unchained At Last, an organization dedicated to helping primarily women and girls escape forced marriages. This non-profit organization passionately fights for people that have been subjected to this appalling act, no matter their culture, religion, or sexual orientation. 

Marrying at a young age can have lasting consequences. Heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and psychiatric disorders are all linked to those who marry young. Because of the victim’s limited options of escape, many start to believe suicide is the only option. Most of the time they never finish high school, and there are high chances of poverty and abuse in their future. 

The United States Department labels child marriage as a human rights abuse. But as long as parental permission is given, this human rights abuse is legal throughout America. 

Many child marriages are forced, but it can be very difficult to find out for sure. The Tahirih Justice Center uncovered 3,000 forced marriage cases in the United States, some known and some based purely on suspicion. This was in 2011. It’s almost 2020, and forced marriage is still lurking behind the notion that America is “the land of the free.”

What do you think?