Child Marriage – Survivor Stories

 

An American Bride, 1996
-M.R., child marriage survivor in Texas
 
An excited smile covers her face
through the shadows of her mom’s old, white lace veil.
Holding onto Fire and Ice Roses,
and with a borrowed arrangement,
she pushes down something subtle, something blue.
Teenage giddiness washes over her thoughts
like a crashing wave
as The Wedding March resounds
through their smiles and nods.
Seventeen years and eleven grades,
two syllables are exchanged like a dowry
after her dad transfers her hand:
I do.
 


The following stories were described in the op-ed article by Fraidy Reiss published in the Washington Post on February 10, 2017

Michelle DeMello walked into the clerk’s office in Colorado thinking for sure someone would save her.

She was 16 and pregnant. Her Christian community in Green Mountain Falls was pressuring her family to marry her off to her 19-year-old boyfriend. She didn’t think she had the right to say no to the marriage after the mess she felt she’d made. “I could be the example of the shining whore in town, or I could be what everybody wanted me to be at that moment and save my family a lot of honor,” DeMello said. She assumed that the clerk would refuse to approve the marriage. The law wouldn’t allow a minor to marry, right?

Wrong, as DeMello, now 42, learned.

Parental control over her sexuality was why Sara Siddiqui, 36, was married at 15. Her father discovered that she had a boyfriend from a different cultural background and told her she’d be “damned forever” if she lost her virginity outside of marriage, even though she was still a virgin. He arranged her Islamic wedding to a stranger, 13 years her senior, in less than one day; her civil marriage in Nevada followed when she was 16 and six months pregnant.

“I couldn’t even drive yet when I was handed over to this man,” said Siddiqui, who was trapped in her marriage for 10 years. “I wasn’t ready to take care of myself, and I was thrown into taking care of a husband and being a mother.”

Betsy Layman, 37, was 27 when she escaped the marriage that had been arranged for her in her Orthodox Jewish community in New York when she was 17, to a man she had known for 45 minutes. Even after she fled with her three children, the repercussions of her marriage continued to plague her. She was a single mother with a high school equivalency certificate, no work experience and no money for child care. The temporary and part-time jobs she managed to get couldn’t cover the bills.

“I was on Section 8, Medicaid and food stamps,” Layman said. “There were times there just was not enough food for dinner.” When the electric company shut off her power for nonpayment, she would light candles around the house and tell her children there was a blackout. Only when her youngest child reached school age was she able to find full-time employment and gain some stability.

“Legislators have the power to prevent what happened to me from happening to another 17-year-old girl,” Layman said. “I beg you to end child marriage.”