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When Child Rape Leads to Marriage

Jun 13, 2017 — Categories: , ,

“When she was a scrawny 11-year-old, Sherry Johnson found out one day that she was about to be married to a 20-year-old member of her church who had raped her. ‘It was forced on me,’she recalls. She had become pregnant, she says, and child welfare authorities were investigating — so her family and church officials decided the simplest way to avoid a messy criminal case was to organize a wedding.” -Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. Not in Afghanistan or Sudan or the Philippines. In Florida. In the 21st century. In the church or at least a church. A child is raped, becomes pregnant as a result, and the “solution” to this problem is to force her to marry her rapist. How can a church even begin to affirm and bless this kind of “marriage”? I wonder if the rapist also paid the child’s father 50 shekels of silver (see Deuteronomy 22:28)?

When Child Rape Leads to Marriage

Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune

“When she was a scrawny 11-year-old, Sherry Johnson found out one day that she was about to be married to a 20-year-old member of her church who had raped her.

‘It was forced on me,’she recalls. She had become pregnant, she says, and child welfare authorities were investigating — so her family and church officials decided the simplest way to avoid a messy criminal case was to organize a wedding.” -Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.

Not in Afghanistan or Sudan or the Philippines. In Florida. In the 21st century. In the church or at least a church. A child is raped, becomes pregnant as a result, and the “solution” to this problem is to force her to marry her rapist. How can a church even begin to affirm and bless this kind of “marriage”? I wonder if the rapist also paid the child’s father 50 shekels of silver (see Deuteronomy 22:28)?

The problem of “child brides” is clearly universal stretching across cultures and religions. There may be a variety of cultural explanations for this practice but it is fundamentally about the denial of human rights to girls and young women.

According to the NYT,  “A great majority of the child marriages involve girls and adult men. Such a sexual relationship would often violate statutory rape laws, but marriage sometimes makes it legal.” A young rape victim is forced to marry her rapist and suddenly the statutory rape becomes legal. Solves the “problem” for the rapist but what did the girl have to say about any of this?

Opponents to state legislation setting a minimum age for marriage argue that this will mean more out-of-wedlock births. Really. This is the problem that allowing adult men to marry children solves?  I’m a little more concerned about the problems of statutory rape and forced pregnancies for 11 year olds.

The situation of the child bride described above sadly reflects the persistent refusal to address rape and forced pregnancy that persists in too many Christian churches. This denial of the experience of the 11 year old child, the refusal to report and prosecute her rapist, and then paper it over with “marriage” is unfathomable. But this young woman is now in a position to fight back and advocate for changes to state laws.

I could only wish that faith communities, all faith communities, would be leading this effort out of a deep appreciation of the difference between rape and sex and out of a concern to protect the institution of marriage as a commitment between consenting adult equals and to protect the human rights of girls and women.

You and your faith community can make your voice heard on this issue!

Laws in 27 states do not set a minimum age below which a child cannot marry. Read this information at Unchained at Last to find out if your state is one that allows child marriage. If so, get in touch with your state lawmakers.

If you are in NY, there is a campaign to get sponsorship for Bill A5524 to end child, early, and forced marriages. Contact your Assembly Member! Share this video with your friends and colleagues to raise awareness of this issue.

Visit Girls Not Brides to learn about the international movement to protect young girls, as well as their work in the US.

You can learn more about forced marriage at the Tahirih Justice Center website: http://preventforcedmarriage.org/

 

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune

www.faithtrustinstitute.org
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