Resiliency Foundation was honored to be part of a forced marriage/child marriage training held in Indianapolis last week. As we talked about how to screen for these cases I realized that none of us ( doctors offices, social service programs, mental health professionals). Have any questions on our intake forms asking the person that we are interviewing questions about forced marriage.
Have you been forced to get married?
Do you think that you will be forced to marry?
Has anyone in your family been forced to marry?
We need to be asking the right questions and screening for this issue. I am going to ask all my service providers that I work with to add these questions to their forms they use for screening. I challenge all of you to do the same. Even if you do not work in the service provider area, ask at your next doctors visit. Call your local domestic violence shelter or send them this blog post.
If your organization would like to receive training on forced/child marriage please send us an email at email@example.com Training is provided for free, we ask that you cover travel expenses if your organization is outside of Fort Wayne. Free training are made possible by donations and sometimes sponsors. If you are your organization would like to donate please hit our donate button. For sponsorship please email us!
Lets all make sure that we are asking the right questions!
NBC news interviewed me for a story that they were working on as part of an ongoing series highlighting the issue of child marriage in the US.
In this story I appreciate how the writer focused on the aftermath of child marriage. How difficult it was to build a life and the years of gas lighting and abuse through the court system that I endured. Being married at 15 was confusing, degrading and my stomach still sours thinking about it. Struggling to build my life with out a high school education or any resources was rough. Trying to protect my daughter while every societal safeguard failed us was THE WORST part.
In addition to my interview, NBC also did some additional digging. They spoke with the judge who married us in Mississippi and he stated that he tried to call my mom because he felt that something wasn’t right. He didn’t get a hold of her so he signed off on the marriage anyway!
I was also molested when I was 11 by a man that my mom and stepfather bought a house with. He was 37 and my mom knew what was going on. It wasn’t until I told another girl my age about my 37 year old boyfriend that anyone did anything. That girls mother called and reported it. He was convicted and received a whole 180 days on jail. When my mom got the call that the police were investigating my mother said to me ” you’re really in trouble now”. That still echos through my ears to this day.
In court records obtained John told the court during a custody hearing that I was “unstable” He confirmed that he had a drinking problem and made the statement that “I stayed with her and accepted her infidelity since I could look at my then-wife as both my spouse and daughter because we are 28 years apart in age.” I told the court that he didn’t really want to parent my child he wanted to keep his claws into me. ( my “infidelity” was me trying to get away from him and have a normal relationship) He STILL GOT CUSTODY OF MY CHILD.
To my knowledge John has never hurt my daughter with the exception of manipulation in her early years. ( telling her that I was crazy, that I didn’t really love her and couldn’t provide a stable life for her which for a few years was true) My daughter is now an adult and will start college later this month. She was an honor student during most of academic career and loves working with kids, writing and photography. She has worked since she was 15 and has grown into a brave and adventurous young woman who is living her life to the fullest. She also has a relationship with her biological father ( the boyfriend) and his kind and wonderful family.
Thank you NBC and Dartunorro Clark for highlighting how incredibly difficult it is to untangle yourself from a child marriage and the lasting wounds and consequences it leaves.
I have taken several trips through hell and back, yet still I stand because I am resilient. It is my honor to share my story with others to not only raise awareness of sexual abuse & child marriage but to offer hope and inspiration to others who are fighting their own kind of battle. If you believe in the work that we are doing at the Resiliency Foundation please consider donating. There is a donation button on the front page of the website. If you would like to volunteer or contribute in another way or have me as a speaker at your next event or conference please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABC did an investigative report on child brides that aired this last week.
I will post the link below so that you can watch it. A few things that I would like to point out.
If you only pass laws banning child marriage in some states but not all. Some states become child wedding destination spots. Thus only adding an obstacle to child marriage not effectively ending it.
As I have said before child marriage most often is a cover up for statutory rape. Not start crossed teenage lovers.
When your a child and applying for a marriage license no one asks you if this is something that you want to do or if you need help. In my case the night before I got married I tried to push against going through with in. My husband to be pointed out that my mom had signed over power of attorney to him. I had asked for help, my uncle. my adult brother, family friends. None of them helped me. Looking back I could have not signed the marriage license I guess. I could have ran, but to where? What would have happened then? I had a stepfather that terrorized me so much that on two occasions I thought he was going to kill me. If I didn’t go through with the marriage then what?
Help is difficult to get. As the video here states; if a child reaches out for help because they are going to be forced into a marriage or has recently been forced into a marriage. If you take them in you can be in trouble for kidnapping. Child marriage is legal in most states in US. Parents can legally marry off their children in the US. Laws must change and not just in some states.
Adapting and surviving your situation is not the same as being OK in it.
I keep hearing this excuse that we need to keep the minimum marrying age low so that children can escape horrible home lives. Children escaping abuse and troubled home lives are exactly who we should be working to protect! They are incredibly vulnerable and most likely have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like. You are setting them up to trap them in more violence, abuse and most likely poverty. Almost all child brides drop out of school. We need to come up with a much better ” solution” for these children who are trying to escape troubled homes. This excuse is pitiful.
For those who have suffered trauma taking care of ourselves is essential to healing. However giving ourselves permission to take care of ourselves can be hard. I personally struggle with this often.
Trauma is damage to the psyche and you can’t see it from the outside. There are no broken bones or lost limbs. Many of us do not feel like we can make the extra effort to tend to our inner wounds. If you broke your ankle none of the people in your life would expect you to just go on with life as usual. They would make accommodations and offer help.We have seen campaigns to raise money for kids with cancer to cover medical expenses but not for kids who have been molested.
In the last few years there have been more and more studies that show how the effects of trauma/PTSD can also linger in physical ways as well. We now know about Adverse Childhood Experiences ( ACEs) and how they effect us as adults. However knowing and applying that information in meaningful ways is another story.
In the last few months I have shared my story on an international show, spoke with reporters and done a lot of work to raise awareness of child marriage. In doing this I have had to open the door to my trauma and have had to process all of this on the go. For the most part I have taken great care of myself emotionally. My mood for the most part has been pretty even and I have reached out to my support system when needed. I am OK.
But there is another part to me that I don’t talk about much. I have really bad food allergies. Certain foods cause really bad inflammation and autoimmune reactions. I get everything from rashes, painful swollen joints, head aches and massive digestion issues. It has even gotten so bad that I ended up in the hospital once with a failing liver YIKES! When I don’t consume these foods I feel 20 years younger and my body is pain free. So then why do I EVER eat things that cause me so much trouble? That’s a great question. The excuse I use most often is that it requires to much time and effort. The shopping, food prep, cooking etc.. I know this excuse is BS because I have so much more energy and much less down time due to pain. The time that these flare ups consume is much more that the time involved in eating well.When my daughter was diagnosed with the same issue, I went to stores all over the city and came up with a plan. That was 10 years ago and things are much easier to find these days! I believe that if I am honest with myself I believe that I am not worth the extra time and effort. It’s time I changed this belief and took better care of my body. I am even going to through in some exercise too! I am going to rearrange my priorities to take better care of myself and ditch the excuses.
How have you been neglecting yourself because deep down you don’t feel like you are worth the time and effort? As always I love hearing from all of you and please join the conversation on our Facebook page or Instagram. Have a great week everyone and remember; self care is an everyday not just Sunday!
Since I spoke about my lived experience of child of marriage I have been asked often about my children. For the most part I intend to keep my children out of the spot light of sharing my story.
I will reveal some information; I have four children. None of whom are biologically related to my first husband. The state of CA did grant my ex paternal rights of my oldest child who is now an adult. To my knowledge he never physically harmed her, but he did cause some psychological issues that I believe she has worked through. My oldest daughter has been in college for some time, has a job that she loves and travels often. I also have a 16 year old daughter who is a very normal 16 year old girl. She attends cosmetology school( and high school) and dreams of doing make up on movie sets and possibly having her own make up line. This fall she will launch her own business providing hair and make up services.
My youngest daughter is 11 and enjoys being the baby of the family. She is incredibly kind and has many friends. She enjoys PBS, shopping at justice and caring for her many pets.
I was blessed with one son who enjoys writing and drawing. He asked if he could share his own thoughts about my situation and speak for himself.
“Hi, I am the son of the writer of the blog your currently reading. Being the child of someone who went through what my mother did I wouldn’t know unless she told me. She handles its well and doesn’t let it control her life. She’s an awesome mom and person. She dedicates plenty of time into helping others, and her line of work reflects that. However, not often but sometimes I can tell she thinks about it a little too much, so I let her talk about it with me and I try to help her feel better. Like I said before she’s still a great mom even though she didn’t have much of an example. We have a nice home with nice things. We get enough food and care.” – Rob 14 years old
Raising my children will be the most important use of my life. I had done my best and look forward to continuing to watch them grow and become who they are meant to be.
I asked my #comeonnewfriend Sara if she would share her experience with our readers. In her own words she shares about the challenges that she overcame to establish a life for herself and her children after being forced to marry a stranger at 15. Thank you Sara for sharing your story and for your friendship. If you have been forced into a marriage or are concerned you might be please reach out. Help is available.
My name is Sara Tasneem, and I am a forced child marriage survivor and public advocate for legislative change in the United States to raise the age floor of marriage to 18 years old. As a fifteen year old, I was forced to marry a man almost twice my age (he was 28 years old, and thirteen years older than me). My father introduced me to my husband-to-be that morning and I was told I would marry him that night. After a spiritual ceremony that evening, I was handed over to him.
Six months later I would legally marry him at 16 and pregnant in Reno, N.V. It was only after years of fighting for my education that I found my freedom to leave. I was able to separate from him seven years later with my two children and all the responsibility of raising them on my own. I was twenty-three years old, and he was thirty-six. He left the marriage and went back to his life, with no repercussions while I was left with the aftermath.
With little education, and little means I had a long road ahead of me. Leaving the marriage was the first obstacle I had to overcome to rebuild my life. Getting a divorce took me three years. I did not have the means to hire an attorney, but he did. I did not have the money to fight him in court, and I ended up giving him everything we had which was not much. He gladly gave me all the debt, which he had racked up over the course of our marriage. He happily left the country and fucked off to where he came from.
At first he tried to keep my kids. I had to fight to get them back. That meant an expensive ticket abroad to convince his family to let me have my babies back who desperately missed me. He became a distant father to my children who saw him in the summers if he decided he could afford to send for them. My ex-husband had a hard time keeping a job during our marriage and afterwards, and I was never sure if I was going to receive the minimal child support that I desperately needed. There were times I had to choose between paying for gas to go to work or buying dinner for my kids.
Even after leaving my marriage, I was years behind my peers in education, work experience, mental health, and life experience. I had to learn how to navigate life as a single mother, starting from zero. During my marriage my ex-husband had controlled the finances and I had never even had my own bank account. I had only learned to drive at 22, and I had an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts by the time I left my marriage. Without these abilities, I am not sure that I would have been able to leave and survive with my kids on my own. Most of the community I had grown up with shunned me because I had divorced. I was left a shell of human being because of years of physical abuse starting from my early childhood, and from the emotional and sexual abuse I suffered throughout my marriage. I was so used to surviving my circumstances that I no longer knew how to live a life without being scared, anxious, depressed, and angry. It took years to overcome the mental obstacles that were holding me back. I suffered from severe and debilitating depression, PTSD, and anxiety for years after I left my forced marriage.
My children grew up with a mother who was still in survival mode most of the time. I felt ill equipped to navigate the adult world. Despite these circumstances, my children and I found a way to move on and rebuild our lives. There are still moments of despair, anxiety, and depression that I struggle with, but now I have a support system that helps me to overcome these struggles. I was a lucky one. Many survivors I know do not have the same support system I had.
Many Americans are unaware that children across the United States are legally able to marry, in some states with no age limits. State laws govern marriage age laws and 48 out of 50 states allow children under the age of 18 to marry with parental consent, or if there is a pregnancy involved. What is problem with these laws? Minors are easily coerced and forced into marriages especially when raised in an abusive household. Parental consent can mean force and abuse if a minor does not comply with a marriage chosen for them. Once they have been forced into a marriage it is extremely difficult to leave. Minors who marry are three times more likely to experience abuse within their marriages. Shelters will not take minors in without parental consent, and often minors are returned to their abusive relationships. Minors cannot enter into contracts in most states so it is hard to find an attorney that will take on a minor’s divorce. There are a myriad of other significant roadblocks that minors face in the U.S. if trying to leave an abusive forced marriage. Minors are not allowed to get driver’s licenses until after 16 and they are not allowed to work in some states until 15-16 years old (with parental consent). Many minors who marry are often forced to drop out of school limiting their ability to get jobs, or future opportunities. Many victims also have multiple children, and often have more children than their adult counterparts. Forced child marriage can often be intergenerational and many minors who are forced into marriages suffer from multiple layers of abuse. Minors who marry suffer from higher complications in childbirth, and higher rates of mental health issues.
Ending child marriage in the United States is an uphill battle because each state must approve new bills limiting the age of marriage to 18. Many states are reticent to pass such bills because of age-old patriarchal views of marriage and pregnancy. Recently however, Delaware and New Jersey passed the marriage laws to limit the age of marriage to 18 with no exceptions. After the age of 18 individuals are considered adults and they can access the vital services that they might need if they experience abuse, or want to divorce their partners. There are still 48 states that allow child marriage with varying exceptions.
You can help! We can end child marriage in the United States. Each state has different marriage laws, find out what your state laws are and contact your legislators. Need help? Reach out. There are numerous ways to get involved and all it takes is an email or a few clicks to find out how. Tasneemsf333@gmail.com
Since stepping out of the shadows and sharing my story I have met many other child marriage survivors. There are common threads to our stores and stark differences as well. This week I would like to introduce you to a fellow survivor and now friend. For now I am linking her blog to mine so that you can learn about her and her journey directly from her. She has a different lived experience than me and shines light on another horrifying aspect of child marriage; spiritual marriages and being shipped outside your country! She will also be featured as a guest blogger soon!
Her amazing story of survival and her will to achieve her dreams can be found here:
If you are being forced into a marriage or already have been and need help call: 571-282-6161
marriage is the opposite of an equal partnership
marriage creates a power imbalance and abuse is an inevitable
brides are most often timid, shy and have low self esteem
with a voice, skills or ideas are not generally wanted
There is more likely to be a greater age difference which magnifies the power imbalance and often leads to more abuse
For girls age 15-19 around the world, the leading cause of death is childbirth
Child brides have a higher rate of HIV, are more likely to be raped and beaten by their partners
Child brides often have difficulty accessing contraceptives and often do not have a say of when or how many pregnancies they have
Once a child has been married, it is very difficult to get “unmarried”
Some are essentially on house arrest, no transportation, no means to file paperwork
Don’t have the knowledge to navigate the system
It is not unusual that when a child brides tries to leave a marriage, she will lose custody of her children
Lack of housing, job skills, income and mental health issues can all result in losing their children
In some states a minor can’t even file the paperwork on her own behalf
Child marriage on a Global Level
Each year 12 million girls are married before their 18th birthday
Some as young at 4 or 5 are married
Female genital cutting is often part of this practice
Many families marry off their children because they cannot afford to feed them
For some families it is more based in tradition
Some countries have an app that sends an SOS type signal to organizations that will try and rescue the child
There are no religions that sanction forced marriages
All Muslim countries have a minimum age of 18 to get married
•-Girls Not Brides UNICEF
Child marriage in the U.S.
•Between 2000 and 2015, at least 207,459 Minors were married in the United States,This number is not ALL of them, only 41 states reported For perspective: In 2017 the population of Fort Wayne was 265,904
•87% of minors married were girls •13% of minors married were boys
1% were under 15 years old, 14% were 15 years old, 29% were 16 years old, 67% were 17 years old.
6 children were 12 years old
51 13 year old children got married
985 14 year old children got married
only 14% of minors married other minors, 86% married adults, 60% married adults 18-20 years old, 25% married adults 21-23 years old, 9% married 24-26 year olds, 4% married adults 27-29 and 3% married adults older than 29 years old.
I would like to point out that 1% of children married of the 207,459 reported were under 15 years old. That is 2074 children under 15 that got married to adults.
This data is not inclusive and does not represent ” spiritual marriages” (more on this in a future blog).
What can we do? Ban Child marriage..but since this seems to be a slow process..
Understand that making a child get married is abuse. A child having sex with someone when they are not old enough to consent is abuse. If you live in Indiana EVERYONE is a mandatory reporter. There are additional consequences for teachers, social workers, etc. You must report suspected abuse. It is not your job to prove it only report it.
Empathy and education. Teach mothers about the health and wellness benefits of delaying marriage and child birth. Understand why parents are marrying their children off. Lack of resources, protecting their virtue, they believe it is what’s best for their children. Educate them and provide them with other resources
Look for family patterns, if one child has been forced into a marriage often the other children will be too. In my case myself and both my siblings were forced into early marriages that had devastating effects on all of us.
Beware of “ marry your rapist” loopholes
Be more informed on child marriage
Hold a hearing before issuing a marriage license. Investigate if a crime has occurred that is now being covered up. Does the child even want to get married. Does the child know that they don’t have too. Are the resources to support the child if they say NO to the marriage.
Better collaboration between agencies, warm hand offs rather than cold calls. Avoid circular referrals.
Realize that these marriage happen very quickly, thus not triggering law enforcement or CPS intervention.
The minimum age for marriage and exceptions are different in each state in the United States. This information is specific to Indiana
In 2019 the minimum age to marry in Indiana is 18. But…you can merry at 17 with only a parents consent. In the case of pregnancy a marriage license can be issued to anyone age 15-16 with both parent consent and approval from a judge. In Indiana 3,108 child were married between 2002-2014. Most of these marriage were minor girls marrying adult men. What is missing from this is an investigation into how this child became pregnant. If the child being married off to cover up a crime? Does the child want to get married? Does this child know that they have options beyond getting married?
I want to share some thoughts with you all on this;
Marriage is supposed to be FOREVER. it evolves not only the bride, but their future children born during the marriage. Both families come together. Marriage impacts so many peoples lives for a very very long time. The divorce rate of child marriages is 80%! Teenagers are not mature enough to make these life impacting choices. Their life experience is limited and their brains are not even fully developed. We have laws in place to try and protect teenagers from themselves. They can get a license to operate a vehicle until they are 16 and even then their parents can say no until they are 18. Teenagers cannot purchase alcohol or tobacco products until they are 18. They cannot vote or stop attending school. Someone please explain to me why teenagers are mature and capable enough to consent to getting married but are not mature enough to drink, smoke,vote or drop out of school. It doesn’t add up. We expect our parents to watch over, teach and protect their children. When they don’t often there are laws in place to protect the child. If you have been to a convenience store lately, you have probably seen a sign stating it is illegal to purchase alcohol and tobacco products for minors. If you do your going to get into trouble. But its totally fine to marry off your 15 year old daughter to a 40 year old man! The system is broken and needs to be fixed.
Teenagers can be tough. I currently live with three of them right now. They think they know it all, nothing bad is ever going to happen to them. All those cautionary tales that parents give are just to spoil their fun. One of my kids doesn’t particularly like going to school. If I gave in and said yes! You don;t have to go to school anymore, the cops would eventually show up at my door and I would be in trouble for not sending my kids to school. I am also the annoying mom who wont let my teen attend parties where there is underage drinking. Again I have no clue what parent would risk jail time to serve alcohol at their teens gathering. Blows my mind! My teen will rage against me ” just because others are drinking doesn’t mean that I am” ” and my favorite; ” you don’t trust me or want me to have any fun”. Get over it kid, I will protect you until you are 18 and I cannot stop you from making stupid choices. That is my job as a parent to protect and guide my kids no matter how much they resist. Our home is a safe, loving environment for these young adults to tests the waters and have an adult hand close by to grab them if they start to drown. Marrying your child off I feel is like tying their feet to a concrete block and letting them drown.
Let me ask you this, if you were invited to a wedding where the bride was 15 and the groom was lets say 31 years old. Would you be overwhelmed with love and excitement for this couple or would you be like..hmmm I don’t about this? I’m just kidding these young girls don’t get fancy weddings. No one celebrates them and wishes them well. The weddings are done in leggings at the court house surrounded by shame not well wishers. Would you let your 14/15 year old daughter go spend the night at the home of a 15 year old girl who is married to a 35 year old man? Most people do not think that any of this is OK. I am well aware that some individuals believe that a child born out of wedlock is the worst thing ever. I am not saying that I think teen pregnancy is cool.But when child marriage has an 80% divorce rate how is this a solution to a problem? That is an 80% fail rate!
Laws can and should change
It wasn’t that long ago that people of different races were not allowed to get married. Loving vs Virginia paved the way for legalizing same sex marriage. In 2004 Massachusetts became the same sex wedding destination capital of the US. Some states recognized it and some did not. I am sure we all remember the clerk in KY who refused to issues same sex marriage licenses. I wonder how many child marriage licenses she had no problem issuing. I was fortunate enough to be in DC. on June 26, 2015 when the Supreme court ruled that same sex marriages are legal and recognized in every state. The white house light up in rainbows that evening. We heard all the arguments against legalizing same sex marriage,” this is an attack of the institution of marriage”, “its immoral”, “it will erode the moral fabric of our society”. ironically, ” are we going to let pedophiles marry children?”. ” Whats next? you can marry your dog?” We see similar arguments in going state by state trying to ban child marriage. One representative even said, ” I have hotels full of pregnant girls next to military bases needing husbands”. My first thought is why do you have hotels filled with pregnant girls? What the heck is going on in your district? Please assemble a committee and find out what is happening!
The arguments for not banning child marriage are lame. We need to talk about how child marriage is the most organized form of child abuse. If your teenager is raising heck in your household make an appointment with a counselor not marry off the teen. If you see something say something. Lets ban child marriage in every state across the whole US like yesterday.
Last fall I participated in something called the Human Library.
The Human Library is an international organization and movement that first started in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000. It aims to address people’s prejudices by helping them to talk to those they would not normally meet. The organisation uses a library analogy of lending people rather than books
In July while waiting for one of my favorite events of the year, patriotic pops and fireworks to start. I was scrolling through my social media feeds. I saw that a few of my friends were participating in a Human Library in Fort Wayne. I emailed a summary of my child marriage story and asked them if they thought my story would be interesting. The following month I sat at a table and shared my story with total strangers. The human connection that I felt was electric and inspiring. I told my story and answered questions but the distribution of information went both ways. I had ” readers” share their pain and struggles with me too! There were many tears and I had the opportunity to encourage so many people to keep going, keep walking the path to recovery. None of them had experienced the pain and shame of child marriage, but many of them had experienced immense pain, loss and grief.
A question I kept getting asked was, ” does this happen in Indiana”? Since I lived in California at the time of my child marriage and was actually married in Mississippi I didn’t know the answer to that question. I also heard a lot of people tell me , ” you are a human trafficking survivor”. I hadn’t thought about that before. I began to look at it from that view and not only learned more about child marriage outside of my own experience, but that its much worse than I realized. In the last year I have looked at child marriage from several different angles, spoke with many people, organizations and child marriage survivors. I have reviewed data, literature and legislation. As I looked more and more into the issue I realized a few things: Not much has changed in the 23 years since it happened to me. The data on it sucks and is not even close to reflective of the reality of the issue. There are many layers to the issue. I HAVE to do more than I have been.
The results are this, yes it happens in Indiana. It is much bigger and more horrific than I knew. Not enough attention is being given to it. Most people do know about it, how harmful it is and that it is happening in their community. Law enforcement, judges, clerks, social services organisations, legislators and government agencies do not know how often it is happening or what to do. This is not just about me or my story any longer. The conversation HAS to grow, these agencies need to be educated. Their must be more resources for victims and survivors. The data collection is shit, and this cannot be kept in the shadows and ignored any longer.
I cannot fit everything that I have done and learned in the last year into one blog. In the coming weeks and months I will release this information on weekly bases as much of it is still being formed. I will also start a news letter to highlight where things stand, progress made, who is helping and what needs to be done. Sign up to receive this news letter in your inbox and follow along.