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But there was one thing she said she knew for sure. She was 15, and he was It was a spring morning in Jackson, Mississippi, in When the judge started officiating, it finally felt real. Scant data exists on the severity of the problem, but Meyer's story is one of the thousands of cases of child marriage in the United States. Only recently, she told NBC News, has she felt able to share her experience as bride in America, a country where such marriages are common but underreported — and take steps toward advocacy work that could help other children.


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He flew into rages and controlled every aspect of my life. Fraidy Reiss, a year-old mother of two daughters who lives in New Jersey, grew up in an insular, ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York. When she was just 19, she entered into an arranged marriage with a year-old man who was a stranger to her.

Reiss had been introduced to him through a matchmaker.

‘trapped’: the american women and girls forced into marriage

After they were married, they moved to an ultra-orthodox community in New Jersey where they both had family members living. Reiss says that in her community, young women, even though they may be over the age of 18, do not have agency to decide when they want to get married.

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As girls get closer to finishing high school — usually the only education they can expect to receive — the process of arranging their marriages begins around 11th or 12th grade. Single women were mocked and treated terribly.

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Many girls are forced into a marriage before they have the full rights of adulthood. It is a horrific form of human rights abuse.

Why i want an arranged marriage

After her husband became violent, Reiss saw first-hand just how trapped young women can be. In her religious community, women had no right to seek a divorce — only a man could grant a divorce. While state laws do not support this, many young women may be too frightened to go through the courts to assert their legal rights for fear of retaliation from their own communities. There was intense pressure to get married — and to stay married — and as time went on, life for Reiss and her children grew more dangerous. Girls were not supposed to go to college in her insular community, but she secretly applied and began saving up enough money to leave her husband.

When she was accepted to Rutgers University, about an hour away from where she was living, her husband tried to stop her from going. She went anyway. When she came home hours later, he was gone. Reiss changed the locks and when her husband tried to come back a week later, she knew there was no going back. Leaving an abuser often triggers a serious escalation of violence by abusers who are determined to possess and control their partner.

She was an american child bride. now, genevieve is fighting to stop it from happening to others.

Reiss was concerned for her daughters and says she did not want them to be exposed to any more of this trauma. When she began the process of leaving him, changing the locks and filing for divorce in the New Jersey courts, her daughters were 7 and 11 years old, but Reiss, like many abuse victims when they try to leave, was subjected to continued stalking, threats and harassment. Perpetrators often escalate their abuse and violence when victims try to flee and, in many cases, support and protection for victims is very limited. Reiss says her now ex-husband repeatedly stalked and threatened her.

Her community shunned her and her own family disowned her. Her last contact with her family was in when she spoke to her mother over the phone. Reiss graduated from Rutgers as the valedictorian of her class in with a degree in journalism and began working as a reporter for the Asbury Park Press.

She has since moved about 90km away from the community she had lived in with her husband.

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Reiss is now the founder and executive director of Unchained At Lastan organisation dedicated to ending forced and child marriage. She says her organisation, founded ingrew quickly as more women trapped in forced and child marriages reached out. It happened to Sherry Johnson, now 61, when she was just 11 years old. She was forced to marry a year-old deacon from her insular Pentecostal church community in Florida.

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Johnson says he raped her when she was 10 years old; the rape resulted in a pregnancy. Johnson says her church community, including her mother, covered up the rape — and forced her to marry her rapist. While the legal age of marriage is 18 in the vast majority of US states Nebraska is 19 and Mississippi is 21many states have exceptions and children can marry with parental consent, because of pregnancy or with judicial approval.

These exceptions often put children, particularly those in abusive or unstable homes, at increased risk. There were many missed moments for an adult to intervene in what happened to her, Johnson says. Her school, doctors and hospital staff at Jackson Memorial Hospital where Johnson gave birth all saw a pregnant year-old and did not take action. Child protective services did come to her house once and Johnson says she told them that she had been raped, but they also failed to intercede and protect her.

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Johnson recalls how she was first taken to the courthouse in Hillsborough County, Florida, to get married, but the court there would not allow it. Her mother later took her to the Pinellas County courthouse which approved the marriage of an year old. I had no one to turn to.

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Indeed, it was not until that laws outlawing marital rape were passed in all US states although some states still have obscure legal loopholes that continue to shield assailants in marital rape cases. Some states had moved earlier — the first was Oregon which changed its law on marital rape in In total, she has six children from the marriage. When Johnson was 16 she went to an attorney seeking a divorce, but she had no means to pay the legal fees and often children that are deemed old enough by the courts to marry are still not able to legally file for divorce if they are a minor.

Why you should treat marriage more like a business

The following year, she went to Legal Aid, an organisation that provides support and legal services to those in need, asking for assistance. After years of trauma, Johnson was finally able to get divorced. Johnson began to speak out publicly about the abuse, help other victims and fought tirelessly for years to change the marriage laws in Florida.

She began working with legislatures in on different bills to stop child marriage, but these bills failed to pass. She kept fighting and, inFlorida finally changed its law. The law now prohibits anyone under 17 from marrying. Johnson, who is no longer a member of the Pentecostal church community, says she was very careful as a parent and limited who had access to her children to prevent them from being abused or targeted.

Approximately 12 million girls globally are forced into marriage before the age of 18 each year and nearly million women alive today were married before their 18th birthdays.

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Research shows that child brides have a ificantly higher chance of living in poverty; being prohibited from attending school; an increased risk of domestic violence, sexual abuse or assault; health problems; and frequent high-risk pregnancies. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to die in childbirth. Child marriages occur in many different countries, religions and cultures, but can be more prevalent in impoverished, rural, religious and conservative communities.

Daughters are frequently seen as burdens or commodities because of pervasive gender inequality Parents in difficult economic circumstances may marry off their daughters as a source of income. Frontline, the investigative journalism programme for the Public Broadcast System PBSreports that between and more thanchildren under the age of 18 were married in the US: 87 percent were girls who were overwhelmingly married off to adult men. This is likely even higher since some states have not provided data.

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Some states have no minimum age requirement if there is parental or judicial approval and other states have a young minimum age. In North Carolina and Alaska, a year-old can marry with judicial approval. In some states, it is not even a judge but a county clerk who has the authority to approve the licence for marriage. A lack of judicial safeguards was exactly what caused Donna Pollard to end up in an abusive child marriage.

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Pollard, now a year-old mother, was just 14 when a year-old man began grooming her. Pollard says she grew up in an abusive home in Kentucky and, when she was 13, her father died of cancer. After this, things became even more unstable and the situation with her mother got worse.

Pollard says she started standing up to her mother when she tried to hit her — and her mother took her to a psychologist where, she says, she was portrayed by her mother as having ificant behaviour problems.

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When Pollard was 14 she was admitted to a behavioural health facility in Indiana. Instead of receiving support, she says she was preyed on by a much older man who worked there. She was just 16 and he was 31 when he decided that they should marry, and her mother consented to it. Pollard recalls how no adult intervened on her behalf or questioned this. They were married in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The day they went to the courthouse, the county clerk issued the marriage licence without asking Pollard any questions or trying to ensure she was safe. Tennessee, like Kentucky and Indiana, at that time allowed younger girls to marry with parental consent.

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InTennessee and Kentucky raised the minimum age of marriage to In Kentucky, a year-old with parental consent or judicial approval can marry, and in Tennessee, a year-old can marry with parental consent. Both states prohibit a minor from marrying someone who is four or more years older. Indiana changed its law inbut still permits year-olds to marry with judicial approval. After she was married, Pollard found herself trapped with her husband and isolated from her peers.

She says her husband quickly became abusive and controlled every aspect of her life. She wanted to continue going to school, but when she tried to enrol in high school after she moved in with her husband and was now living in a different area, she says she was told by the assistant principal that she could not.

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He flew into rages and controlled every aspect of my life.