Child Marriage: An issue whose time has come

With all the current debate over the criteria for legitimate marriage, it is hoped that more politicians, activists, and religious leaders will see their way to consider not only gender but also the issues of age and consent. The following presentation is intended to focus attention on the practice of marrying children and on the social and legal implications thereof.

    Tom Johnson, Special Projects Coordinator
    Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education

From the Defense Of Marriage Act (H.R. 3396), enacted by the U.S. Congress September 10, 1996:
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

From the Federal Marriage Amendment (H.J.Res. 56), introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives May 21, 2003:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

From Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition):
man (n) 1 a (1) : an individual human; especially : an adult male human

wom·an (n) 1 a : an adult female person

Expert says Alabama is lagging in raising its marriage age
By Karen Tolkinnen, Mobile Register, March 30, 2003
Of all the House of Prayer brides, April Nichols best remembers the two sisters. One was age 14, the other 15, and they were surrounded by family, all dressed in their Sunday best.

"They seemed like little girls getting married," said Nichols, Cleburne County Probate Court's chief clerk. "They didn't seem upset. They giggled a little bit. There wasn't any crying or anything. They think it's funny and cute, and they're going to be grown up because they're getting married."

The House of Prayer church in Atlanta, embattled over its use of corporal punishment on children, was sending young girls to Alabama's border county east of Anniston to take advantage of this state's more lenient marriage laws.

Its pastor, Arthur Allen Jr., told reporters that he wanted to prevent girls from having premarital sex.

Georgia requires brides and grooms to be at least 16, unless the bride is pregnant, in which case all age requirements are waived. But in Alabama, girls and boys can marry at age 14 as long as their parents agree.

Alabama has been trying to raise the marriage age since at least 1997. In 2001, then-Rep. John Hilliard, D-Birmingham, introduced a measure to raise the age to 16, calling it a direct response to House of Prayer activities. It received widespread support but died because a filibuster on another issue shut down the Legislature.

This year, another bill was introduced by Alabama Sen. Charles Steele Jr., D-Tuscaloosa. He said he carried it at the request of the state's probate judges, who were seeing too many young couples.

"I still think that's too young, but it's better than 14," Steele said.

Why not raise it to 18?

"Hopefully we'll get to that, but we have to start somewhere," he said.

Alabama is one of just three states where 14-year-olds can marry with just parental consent. Some other states allow marriage at that age -- or even younger -- if the girls are pregnant, or if a judge agrees.

Such policies are holdovers from a time when boys were considered men once they could do a man's job, and a girl was considered a woman once she could bear children. Alabama's law was written in 1852.

"Back then, they had a lot more responsibilities," Steele said. "They didn't continue their education. It was all about survival. They had children and worked. Times were different. Reasons for getting married were different back then."

Young marriages worldwide have come under fire over the past few years. In 2001, the United Nations Children's Fund declared marriages under age 18 to be a violation of human rights, contending that minors are not mature enough to give a "free and full" consent.

That same year, the Centers for Disease Control found that couples under age 18 had a 10-year divorce rate nearly twice as high as when the couple was 25 years old or older.

Reports of very young brides pushed lawmakers into raising the marriage age in at least one state: South Carolina. North Carolina and Utah followed suit.

"For both girls and boys, early marriage has profound physical, intellectual, psychological and emotional impacts, cutting off educational opportunity and chances of personal growth," the United Nations Children's Fund said in a 2001 report titled "Early Marriage: Child Spouses."

For years in South Carolina, it was legal for 12-year-old girls to marry. Then lawmakers heard that a tight-knit, closed community called the Irish Travelers was actually marrying girls off at that age. In 1997, they raised the age for girls to 14 and the age for boys to 16.

In 2000, then-South Carolina state Rep. Michael Easterday was looking at South Carolina's new law and realized that setting different ages for males and females probably violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection provision.

"I just read it one day and said, 'Wait a minute, how can we treat them so differently?'"

Lawmakers then boosted the age for girls to 16 as well. But even that isn't entirely satisfying to Easterday, who now works in the governor's office.

"I'm not sure if 16 is old enough, really, for the same reasons," he said. "I was a junior in high school at 16. I was not equipped financially or emotionally to make that kind of commitment."

South Carolina wasn't the only state allowing children to marry at age 12. It was legal in North Carolina, which increased the age to 14 two years ago. In Kansas, in the absence of legislative action, the state Supreme Court set the legal marriage age at 12 for girls and 14 for boys. New Hampshire still allows girls to marry at 13 and boys to marry at 14, though it also allows parents or guardians of married minors to petition for annulment.

And, legal or not, 12-year-olds have gotten married in Alabama.

Kathy Albritton of Mobile got married at age 12 in Covington County in 1972 to 17-year-old Tony Wayne Heathco. Covington County confirmed the marriage date but said her age was listed at 16. Albritton said she was never asked for proof of her age. She showed the Mobile Register a Florida birth certificate and Alabama driver's license to support her account.

Her mother, now deceased, was a drunk and hardly ever at home, Albritton said. She and her brother and sister had to take care of themselves. One day, her future husband saw her mother mistreat Albritton, whose last name was then Metz. He asked her mother if he might marry her, and her mother agreed. Albritton was more than happy to comply.

"I was so tired of the situation I was in at home that it seemed like it couldn't get any worse," she said.

They had two children and divorced in 1987.

Now Metz, realizing for the first time that you can't legally marry in Alabama until you're 14, has a question: Was she ever legally married?

Penny Davis, a University of Alabama law professor who teaches family law, was guarded about the early years of Metz's marriage, but said that once she turned 18, the relationship would have become a legally recognized common law marriage.

Pregnancy was -- and still is -- a common reason for early marriage for social and religious reasons, though observers say there's not as much pressure to do so these days.

Nina Kynard, business manager for the nonprofit Child Welfare and Policy Group in Montgomery, said her pregnancy at age 15 in 1967 shamed her family. Of all the options, including packing her off to an aunt's house in another city, marriage seemed to be the best at the time.

"It was a stigma, and it was embarrassing," she said.

The marriage lasted just 18 months. Luckily, she had supportive parents who insisted she be allowed to stay in school, so she graduated on time, she said. Other pregnant teenagers were pressured into dropping out.

"Now it's different. You can stay in school, and I think that's a good thing," Kynard said. "Things have progressed quite a bit since that time."

Alabama is behind the curve in trying to raise its marriage age, said David Popenoe, one of the directors of the National Marriage Project, based at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

In 1959, half of all brides were teenagers. Today, the average bride is 25 years old, he said.

"Everything has shifted up, and that means that early marriages and teen marriages are way outside the normal range," he said.

The country is increasingly aware of the problems teenagers face in early marriages and that early marriage is probably the greatest predictor of divorce, Popenoe said. Also, the concept of marriage has changed to become much more of a close friendship than it once was.

"It used to be -- this is a bit of a stereotype -- two people going through life together doing their own thing," he said.

"You each had your jobs to do. You didn't have time to think about the emotional quality of the marriage. Today that quality is everything, and if it's not strong, you get divorced. ... With a 50 percent divorce rate, you think maybe it's a good idea for people to wait until they're more settled as personalities."

America's paradox is that even as children have to wait longer for "adult" things -- serving in the military, drinking, getting married -- they're perceived as growing up faster than previous generations. Children are exposed to sex, drugs and violence at increasingly early ages. They're reaching puberty earlier. So why is America making them wait longer for adult responsibilities?

Because society has become increasingly complex, and people need more time to prepare for it, Popenoe contends.

"We do think it takes a longer time to grow up these days, and it does, partly because we need a fund of knowledge through education that we didn't used to need," he said.

As for the House of Prayer, many of its children were taken into custody by child protective workers. Most of those children have been returned to their parents, but a judge forbade church leaders from circumventing state law by bringing young girls to states more open to young marriage.

Last year, the pastor and four other House of Prayer members were convicted of child abuse in connection with beatings of children at church.

Ted Hall, an attorney for the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services in Atlanta, said the order only applies to those children taken into custody by his agency. It does not stop the church from marrying off other young girls, and he said the practice is still occurring from time to time. He just doesn't know where.

One child bride who later testified against the church said she went "screaming and crying all the way to Alabama," Hall said.

Other church brides consented willingly, he said.

"That is, if at 14 you can knowingly consent," he said.

16-year-old allegedly whipped for rebelling against arranged marriage to her uncle--Utah Gov. in political minefield
By Mike Carter, Associated Press, August 2, 1998
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Carrying out his sworn duty to uphold the Utah Constitution is becoming a public relations hot potato for Gov. Mike Leavitt.

The sticking point is Article III, which mandates religious tolerance but adds this caveat: "Polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited."

The early Mormons' practice of plural marriage, renounced by the church in 1890, has persisted among religious splinter groups and hasn't been prosecuted in more than 45 years. Today, there are an estimated 30,000 polygamists in the West.

But an accusation of child abuse against a prominent member of a wealthy polygamist clan has brought that wink-and-a-nod tolerance into question and caught the Republican governor in the middle.

The issue is a political, religious and cultural mine field in a state where 70 percent of the governor's constituents are Mormon.

Leavitt, a descendant of Mormon polygamists, appeared to stumble when asked about the child abuse case at a July 23 news conference. Refusing to flatly condemn polygamy, he suggested that it may be protected as a religious freedom, despite a century of case law to the contrary.

"It's clear to me in this state and many others, they have chosen not to aggressively prosecute it," he said. "I assume there is a legal reason for that. I think it goes well beyond tradition."

"What needs to be cracked down on, if there is to be such a crackdown, is any abuses of peoples' civil and human rights," he said.

Leavitt's comments brought condemnation from a fledgling organization of women who have fled polygamy. Members of Tapestry of Polygamy say the practice of men having more than one wife is inherently abusive.

"As it is practiced, it degrades women," said Roweena Erickson, a former polygamist wife and a board member of the self-help group.

"Many women in these relationships struggle with isolation, emotional abuse and poverty," she said.

Tapestry's stand was countered last week by the newly formed Women's Religious Liberties Union, which called on Leavitt and the Utah Legislature to repeal the ban on plural marriage.

On Friday, the governor backpedaled from his religious freedom statement, although he stresses that he does not condone polygamy.

Polygamy within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began in secret among its leaders — founder Joseph Smith had 33 wives — but was openly practiced after the Mormons fled to the future site of Utah to escape persecution.

Congress passed tough anti-bigamy laws and the church, under threat of having its assets confiscated, abandoned the practice in 1890. Then Congress insisted the anti-polygamy clause be included in the Utah Constitution when statehood was granted in 1896.

Modern polygamists continue to observe Mormon doctrine and are convinced the church was wrong to abandon plural marriage. The church disagrees; polygamists are summarily excommunicated.

The felony child abuse case involves John Daniel Kingston, a prominent member of a polygamist clan that reportedly has as many as 1,000 members and business holdings worth up to $150 million.

Kingston, 43, is accused of whipping his 16-year-old daughter with a belt after she rebelled against an arranged marriage to his brother. Police say the girl, her uncle's 15th wife, told them all she wanted to do was finish high school. Kingston has pleaded innocent.

On Friday, the governor said that after speaking with prosecutors, he had concluded polygamy isn't pursued in court not because of religious freedom but because--as with fornication, sodomy and adultery--it is difficult to do so.

He cited three reasons: lack of proof, since most polygamous marriages take place in private and are not documented; case law preventing children from being removed from a polygamous home; and higher priorities for law enforcement.

There may be another reason. The last time the law was enforced, when state and federal agents raided a polygamist community in 1952, it became a public relations debacle. Photographs of crying children being dragged from parents' arms and husbands being jailed turned public opinion against the authorities.

The prosecutor in the abuse case against Kingston, Box Elder County Attorney Jon Bunderson, is pragmatic about enforcing the anti-polygamy clause.

"In my 23 or 24 years of doing this, I've never had anyone come in and seek a prosecution because consenting adults are living together."

16-Year-Old Girl Testifies Of Beating
By Ray Rivera, Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1998:
Brigham City -- Her father told her she was "going to get 10 licks for every wrongdoing." Then, in a big red barn in Box Elder County, she said, he belt-whipped her.

She lost count, and perhaps consciousness, at 28 lashes across her back and thighs.

So testified a tearful 16-year-old girl during a preliminary hearing in 1st District Court here Wednesday. She wiped a tissue across her eyes as she sat in the witness chair facing her father, John Daniel Kingston.

It was the girl's first public appearance since capturing national media attention when she reluctantly told police that her father beat her for running away from a polygamous marriage to her uncle. The girl has been in protective custody with the state ever since.

"I remember him telling me . . . that before the night was over, I'd think twice before I ran away," she told prosecutor Jon Bunderson.

At the hearing's conclusion, Judge Ben Hadfield ordered Kingston, 43, to stand trial for second-degree felony child abuse. Kingston is scheduled to appear before Hadfield on Monday for arraignment. If convicted, Kingston could face up to 15 years in prison.

The hearing offered a rare glimpse into the secretive Kingston group, a 1,500-member polygamous sect that has an estimated $150 million business empire in Salt Lake County and in other parts of Utah and Nevada. John Daniel Kingston and his defense attorney, Carl E. Kingston, are cousins and prominent members in the group.

Former members say both men are polygamists.

The girl told police she had twice tried to leave the group so she could finish high school. She married her uncle, David O. Kingston, 32, the previous October, becoming his 15th bride in a union she said was arranged by her father.

(The Salt Lake Tribune is not naming the girl because of her age and because of the allegations of incest involved in the case.)

The first time the girl ran away, her father returned her to her uncle, who has not been charged. The second time, she sought refuge with her mother, Susan Nelson, in her old Sandy neighborhood. But Nelson telephoned John Daniel Kingston on the evening of May 22.

On Wednesday, the girl told a full courtroom that her father showed up at her mother's house at 11 p.m. He ordered her into his truck and they drove north, first dropping off two other relatives in Salt Lake City.

Then the father and daughter got on Interstate 15, traveling north toward the group's Washakie ranch near the Idaho border, a place former members say wayward wives are taken to be punished.

"I didn't know where we were going, but I kind of figured it out when we passed Ogden," the girl said.

Along the way, he purportedly grabbed her by the hair, pulled him toward her and hit her in the mouth and forehead.

"I could taste blood from my nose," she said.

After driving some 80 miles to the ranch near Plymouth in the dark, early-morning hours, her father ordered her into the barn. He told her to remove her jacket while he turned on the lights and removed his belt. That's when the beating began, she said. At some point, she remembered the lights flickering off.

Kingston stopped to turn the lights back on, and the beating resumed.

"He said, 'I don't want you to leave, but if you do, you can't come back,'"she quoted him as saying.

The girl suffered a swollen nose, cut lip and deep bruises and welts on her arms, back, buttocks and legs. Photos of the bruises were presented as evidence. Earlier police reports that she had a broken nose turned out to be a tissue shadow in the X-rays, prosecutor Bunderson said.

The girl said she never remembered leaving the barn. She woke up in the morning on a couch in the living room of the nearby home of Margaret Larsen, who former members say is one of John Daniel Kingston's 20-plus wives.

The next day, the girl walked two hours on a dirt road to Tri Valley Chevron and dialed 911, she testified.

During his cross-examination, attorney Carl Kingston attempted to paint a picture of a young girl out of control who worried her parents by staying out all night, including the night before the beating.

He asked the girl about various trysts with other men. She admitted spending the night with one man in a motel, where they consumed drugs and alcohol. However, the girl denied she had been struck by anyone but her father.

In binding Kingston over for trial, Judge Hadfield rejected attorney Kingston's claim that the offense did not qualify as a second-degree felony but as a lesser Class A misdemeanor.

"If a parent slaps a child and the next week slaps him again, the child might have two bruises, but is the parent guilty of a second-degree felony? I would submit no," Carl Kingston argued.

Hadfield responded that the alleged beating amounted to physical torture.

"It would seem to the court that this was a methodical inflicting of continuous pain and suffering," he said.

About a dozen members of Tapestry of Polygamy, a support group for former wives of polygamy, attended the hearing.

"We wanted to show this young girl that we are here to support her," said a group founder, Rowenna Erickson, who says she was a former wife in the Kingston group.

"She has displayed profound courage in coming out like this," Erickson said of the girl.

Members of the group have questioned whether Carl Kingston has a conflict of interest in defending the girl's father. The girl told investigators that she had worked for Carl Kingston as a receptionist in his Salt Lake law office. In addition, the attorney purportedly performed a secret ceremony in which his own daughter became the third wife of David Kingston, the man the 16-year-old girl had run away from.

Carl Kingston has refused to discuss the issue.

Meantime, the Utah Division of Child and Family Services has set up a trust fund to help pay the girl's educational expenses. Anyone wanting to contribute should call the agency's office in Brigham City at (435) 734-4075.

Romanians probe 12-year-old's marriage
Associated Press, September 30, 2003
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Responding to pressure from the European Union, Romanian authorities opened an investigation Tuesday into the recent forced marriage of a 12-year-old Gypsy girl in Transylvania.

Ana Maria Cioaba was married off Saturday to a 15-year-old Gypsy boy, Birita Mihai, in nuptials condemned by the European Union and human rights groups. Officials said they would be investigating on possible charges of sex involving minors.

Cioaba's wedding first caused a stir after the reluctant bride stormed out of the church during the service and later told reporters she did not want to marry.

She returned to the church 15 minutes later, her face sullen. Her father _ a self-proclaimed Gypsy king who was the ceremony's minister _ and the groom were waiting for her, and the service continued awkwardly.

Though the legal age for marriage in Romania is 18, the country generally tolerates the tradition of arranged child weddings among Roma _ as Gypsies are also known. Still, some young women are starting to rebel against the custom.

If investigators determine that the marriage was consummated, the child bride could be placed in an orphanage, said Serban Mihailescu, a top government official.

Mihailescu indicated that the police investigation was launched in reaction to EU pressure to separate the young couple.

Earlier in the day, the EU envoy to Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson, faxed the government an official letter of protest. The Balkan country aspires to join the EU in 2007 and is being pressured to enact a series of reforms bringing it in line with Western European practices.

"I have already replied urgently to the fax ... that Romanian officials are investigating this event," Mihailescu, the government's secretary general, told private television station Pro-TV. ``It may be decided that she (Cioaba) goes to a children's home."

A police spokesman in Sibiu, the medieval town where the wedding took place, said Cioaba family members made statements Tuesday to police.

"We are investigating on charges of sex with a minor," the police officer said on condition of anonymity.

In a statement, the Gypsy family called the investigation "a masquerade against the royal household," adding that the wedding had received undue media attention. Each year, thousands of Gypsy children are wed in arranged marriages, the girl's father, Florin Cioaba, said.

Official figures say more than 550,000 Roma live in Romania, but the real number is believed to be more than 1 million. The country's total population is 22 million.

A family spokeswoman, Dana Chendea, defended the marriage and said the girl had begun to "resign herself to her fate."

"They spent the (wedding) night together. It was the deal," Chendea said by telephone.

"Nobody asked her whether she wanted it. It is part of a tradition for Gypsies, and the marriage shows that traditions are respected."

Still, Saturday's wedding made the headlines in most of Romania's papers.

"They are messing with the life of a human being," said Valentin Militaru, a 23-year-old computer specialist from Bucharest. "Maybe that girl wanted something else out of life – not to marry before she was 13."

WB: 14-year-old protests against child marriage
Oneindia news, July 25th, 2011
Purulia: Though they are few in numbers, it hasn't yet been eradicated. With the act considered as violation of human rights, the ancient traditional practice of "Baal Vivaah" or Child marriage hasn't seen its end even today. In a recent incident at Purulai district of West Bengal, 14-year-old Bina Kalindi has turned out to be a "hero" for her crucial role in opposing this illegal act.

Sixteen-year-old Saraswati was married off at the age of 12. By the time she turned 14, she had suffered two miscarriages and her first husband had deserted her. She was remarried by her parents and her third child was born.

"Today I'm suffering because I was married early. There's only sadness, my kid is always sick," she said. Saraswati's sister Bina didn't want to follow her victimised elder sister's footsteps under the pressure of her parents and society. She is the first girl in the village to oppose the matter.

Bina is a child labourer and also works at her home on behalf of her sick mother. Just 12-years-old then, she was considered as the oldest unmarried girl in the village. So her father forced her to appear before prospective grooms not even once or twice, but four times. And each time, Bina had the same answer. "Every time I refused and said no to them. I told them I don't want to get married so early but study and stand on my own feet," Bina said.

"My father asked me to leave the home if I don't agree. I was scared initially but I gathered the courage because I had to save my life," she said.

Today Bina and her friends go from village to village, speaking out at public gatherings. But Bina has had to face the ire of the villagers for challenging archaic traditions.

"Villagers threaten me, show their anger, but I know I'm doing good work. When these girls grow up and have a career then their parents will realise that Bina was right," she said.

"Ballo Bibaaho" has been a child's nightmare since ages as described and protested by scholar Ishwar Chadra Vidyasagar.


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