Stopping Child Marriage Around the World Including Florida

by ZontaDoris

Sometimes our club focuses so much on local needs of women that we don’t always appreciate that our club is chartered by an international women’s service and advocacy  organization.

Fortunately, a member suggested that we go to the movies at our November meeting to learn more about Zonta International’s work in developing countries.

ZI offers videos on its website to show how it provides “training, education, health, sanitation, agricultural and micro-credit assistance to women, primarily through projects implemented by the agencies of the United Nations and other recognized non-governmental organizations.”

One of the touching videos concerns Zonta’s efforts to delay marriage for young girls in Niger. A majority of girls are married before the age of 18 in that country. Child brides are also common in Yemen, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Girls forced into marrying so young are robbed of many things. 

For instance, their education usually stops when they marry; dropping out of school at age 12 or 14 forecloses economic opportunities and choices for themselves and their children. Their health suffers as they become pregnant much too young; their bodies are often not able to bear a child without complications or injury. The young brides may be isolated from their parents, siblings, and peers. Many become a ward of much older adult men who may abuse and torture them without consequence.

The <4 minute video below horrifies and saddens. Please watch it anyway to get informed. Then keep reading below for a look at child brides in this country.

Yes, you read the last statement correctly.

Child marriage happens across the United States because our state laws allow marriage under age 18. There is sometimes no minimum age specified in law. Parents may consent to a young daughter marrying the man who has impregnated her. If a girl is already pregnant or has borne a child, she can marry with a judge’s approval EVEN IF HER PARENTS SHOULD DISAGREE WITH THIS ACTION. More likely, the parents will approve of the marriage because they blame the girl (AS IF she is the responsible party!) and want someone else to take care of her and her child.

Unchained at Last, a national organization created to outlaw child marriage in the U.S., has analyzed the frequency and reasons for child brides here. Their data show that between 2000 and 2010, Tennessee allowed girls as young as 10 years of age to marry. Florida has let 13 year old girls marry. And these girls aren’t marrying 13 year old boys. They are often marrying men who are in their twenties.

Unchained at Last is leading a statewide coalition to change Florida laws to prohibit all marriages for girls and boys under 18 years of age. The coalition includes the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Greater Palm Beach, Human Rights Watch, AHA Foundation, FIU’s Initiative Against Gender Violence, NOW-FL, The Children’s Campaign and Surly Feminists for the Revolution. The Zonta Club of Pinellas County also joined. Other Zonta Clubs are being urged by the ZI District Advocacy Committee to get involved, too.

HB 335 (Nunez, White) and CS/SB 140 (Benacquisto) were approved easily in the first committees of reference. Now they await  discussion and votes in the Judiciary Committees in the House and Senate. House bills may be tracked here and Senate bills on this website.

The week of December 4th is the last committee meeting week before the Legislature convenes in January. These bills are not scheduled for committee review next week which means they won’t come up again in committee until early in 2018.

Nevertheless, keep checking back on this blog to get updates. As soon as we know committee agendas, we will urge you to contact state lawmakers to encourage them to approve the bills as is–to make 18 the minimum age for marriage in Florida.

Remember, girls should not be forced into marriage by their parents because the girls are pregnant. The girls were molested by predatory men. If any legal action needs to happen, the men who impregnated the girls should be charged with child molestation and sexual assault.   

Girls who are pregnant do not gain legal rights by marrying. They are still minors who happen to be married and are unable to divorce abusive spouses. 

Too many examples exist of girls who marry before age 18 being abused. Unchained at Last has documented that girls who marry are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who marry at age 21 or later.

This recent article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune outlines why our elected state representatives should update our laws to protect our  girls from the legal barbwire and abusive practices of child marriage. We all need to help our blooming young women finish growing up before they marry. 

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The UNICEF picture of the child bride is located here.

Views expressed in this blog post are mine and may not reflect the stance of the Zonta Club of Pinellas County or Zonta International. — Doris Reeves-Lipscomb