Dr. Nicholas Syrett Visits UTRGV to Discuss Childhood Marriage

        Childhood marriage is a vexed global issue that has been gaining an increasing amount of attention, especially after the past few months. Dr. Nicholas Syrett, author of “American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States” visited the UTRGV campus last week to discuss how the legal identities of underage girls that are forced into early marriage are constructed to deny them autonomy.

       In June, Texas legislators passed bill SB 1705, setting the legal minimum marriage age from sixteen to eighteen, with an exception to minors emancipated from their legal guardians. If a child is under the age of 16, they’re able to file a petition to seek permission to marry. In Syrett’s recent interview with Teen Vogue, he says, “It was very easy to marry illegally. Judges got involved only if someone (usually a parent) protested a marriage.” Teen Vogue states “Many children, mostly girls, were forced into marriages by their parents because they’d either had sex or gotten pregnant, and both were viewed as criminal by social reformers pushing purity campaigns in the 20th century.”

        Although these laws were passed to protect minors, there are still many underlying issues. The Tahirih Justice Center stresses “Children are uniquely vulnerable to coercion and especially disabled- both legally and practically – from preventing or leaving a marriage that threatens them with harm.” Although the efforts of all those raising awareness have made a huge difference, there is still a long way to go to protect underage children from child marriage. The global partnership Girls Not Brides says “by working together, we can turn commitments to ending child marriage into reality and create lasting change for millions of girls.”

If you or someone you know is being forced into a marriage contact the Tahirih Justice Center’s website at tahirih.org.