Every once in a while, when I’m reading the newspaper, I get squinty. Then my right eye starts to twitch. Just such a scenario occurred earlier this week when I was confronted by the following headline: “Legislature looks to curb child marriages.”
I know what you’re thinking. Why, that sounds like a perfectly lovely idea. Let’s do that!
I felt the need to check the defintion of the word “curb”, just in case I was having a bit of a brain cramp. And there, in my handy-dandy electronic thesaurus, my worst realizations were confirmed. Curb: to limit, control, reduce, cut back. Not, unfortunately, to end.
I wanted to scream.
The first line of the story, written by Dustin Gardiner of the Arizona Republic said, “Every year, about 100 children get marriage licenses in Maricopa County.” The second sentence was equally horrid: “The vast majority of them are girls marrying older men.”
I live in Maricopa County.
Last year, I published a book titled The Scent of Rain, which details the horrors of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a cloistered cult of polygamists who reside on a north-west border of the state of Arizona, a group that preys on young girls, forcing them into “celestial marriages” with old men. Let’s call these guys what they are: pedophiles.
As I read the following comments, I was glad I’d remembered to take my blood pressure medication.
“Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescot, has been the bill’s most outspoken opponent. He told lawmakers the story of his grandmother and grandfather, immigrants from Ukraine, who married when he was 21 and she was 16. Stringer said they had 10 children.”
Yo! Dave! Back in olden times, girls had virtually no choices. Marriage was pretty much it. Today we educate young women, telling them they can achieve hopes and dreams through hard work and dedication. I wonder if anyone bothered to asked grandma if she had any other aspirations.
Another dissenter to the bill that would simply ask that girls 16 and 17 have their parents’ consent to marry, said, “We know of plenty of exceptions where young girls have been married before they turn 16, happily married to a loving husband with children.”
I was tempted to call Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, to see if he’d give me a list of all those “happy” teens, so that I might asked their opinions. Something tells me he would demur.
According to the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, there are currently nearly 700 million women alive today who were married as children worldwide. And 15 million more are married annually. That this is happening in my country, my state, and my county is appalling. But don’t get too smug. Right now, minors of any age can marry in 25 U.S. states.
I have been a high school teacher for 18 years. I can tell you with complete honesty that I have never meet a teenage girl who was mature enough to marry. Ever.
We have to do better.
Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.