We’ve been hearing a lot about child marriage in the news lately and the importance of ending this harmful human rights abuse wherever it occurs, including right here in the United States. Ending child marriage has been a policy priority of our Forced Marriage Initiative (FMI) since we sparked the national movement in 2016 with groundbreaking legislation in Virginia, where Tahirih is headquartered.
But raising the minimum age of marriage is just one piece of a comprehensive plan necessary to end forced marriage in the United States. That is why the FMI also advocates for broader policy proposals to prevent forced marriage as it impacts both children and adults: Because forced marriage can happen at any age. In fact, the FMI has served clients as young as 12 and individuals over the age of 40.
And while for many of the survivors Tahirih has served, the grooming and the coercion to get someone to acquiesce to a marriage they do not want – or feel as if the consequences for saying no to a marriage they are not ready for are too severe – often begin at a young age, many forced marriages take place on or after the individuals 18th birthday.
The life of someone forced into marriage may consist of daily abuses, including rape, domestic violence, forced labor, and deprivation of the right to education and access to healthcare all of which can result in severe and long-term harm, including deteriorating medical and mental health.
For service providers and survivors alike, it is critical to recognize and understand these links and to connect the dots between the mechanisms of power, control, and coercion that may precede a forced marriage, and the forms of abuse that can follow it. With this increased understanding of historic and related trauma, it is more possible to effectively identify opportunities for safety and healing.
As part of our national effort to raise awareness about forced marriage and to mainstream the issue across the movement to end gender based violence in the U.S., the Tahirih Justice Center, in collaboration with close partners and experts, developed a groundbreaking Framework for Identifying and Responding to Forced Marriage as part of a comprehensive service provider toolkit available at PreventForcedMarriage.org.
Our goal is that every survivor or individual at risk of forced marriage in the U.S., no matter their background or where they live, can reach out and receive trauma-informed, supportive services that meet their unique needs. With this one-of-a-kind framework in hand, service providers across the country as well as hotline advocates on the local, state, and national level now have the tools and information they need to recognize and serve survivors of forced marriage.
We can no longer afford to have survivors and individuals at risk of forced marriage falling through the cracks of systems meant to support and protect victims of gender-based violence in the U.S. We know the solutions – policy change, funding for services, outreach and training, and support for community based transformation – and we, along with our colleagues on the Forced Marriage Working Group, will continue to push for comprehensive solutions that serve the needs of all survivors and ultimately bring an end to forced marriage in the U.S.