It does happen “here”: forced and child marriage in the United States
“I was a kid, I hadn’t grown that much so I was really scared.” Jada was 12 when her father took her to live in Saudi Arabia and started talking about marrying her off. Jada had lived all of her life in New Jersey, in the United States, and marriage had not crossed her mind.
Earlier this month, PBS News Hour shone a light Jada’s story and the American citizens who are taken overseas to be forced into marriage.
Jada immediately sought help from her family back home, texting her half-sister. They soon found out that the U.S. State Department could not intervene to stop a marriage in another country, as American citizens must abide by the laws of the country they are in, and these may allow child marriage.
Jada’s aunt felt powerless: “She’s thousands and thousands miles away […]. It seemed like everybody was saying ‘There is nothing we can do’.” She got in touch with the Tahirih Justice Center, a Girls Not Brides member based in the US that provides legal services to women and girls who face gender-based violence and persecution.
For several months, Tahirih worked with Jada’s aunt and half-sister on strategies to bring her home. Jada eventually flew back to the United States and, with the support of Tahirih, her family requested her full custody. She is now back in school and dreams of attending university.
Watch the full programme
Forced and child marriage in the United States
According to the Tahirih Justice Center, thousands of individuals across the United States may face forced marriages each year. Children in particular are vulnerable to forced marriage and, although there is little nationwide data available, state statistics paint a worrying picture:
• In Virginia, between 2004-2013, nearly 4,500 children were married. Over 200 married at age 15 or younger, and about 90% of underage spouses are girls.
• In Maryland, over 3,000 children have been married since 2000.
• In Texas between 2009-2013, over 700 children between the ages of 15 and 17 were married.
If you are facing or fleeing a forced marriage, or know someone who is, please visit preventforcedmarriage.org to get help.