By Lauren Frias
BU News Service
BOSTON — Wearing wedding veils on their heads and chains around their wrists, advocates for ending child marriage urged legislators in the Statehouse Wednesday to pass a bill to ban it.
The “chain-in,” organized by Unchained at Last, a nonprofit dedicated to ending forced and child marriage, featured women in bridal gowns and chains wearing signs that read, “Stop Child Marriage in the U.S.” The event was intended to raise awareness for the issue in Massachusetts and across the nation.
“We cannot allow this human rights abuse to continue,” Fraidy Reiss, a forced-marriage survivor and founder and director of Unchained at Last, said in a statement. “What better way to urge legislators to take action than to show them what life looks like for girls who are forced into marriage?”
The bill, which would set the legal marrying age at 18 years old, is sponsored by Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, and Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, the House chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. Now filed for a second two-year session, Ms. Chandler said they had a hard time finding anyone to testify for the bill the first time around, which impeded its success in the Legislature.
“In this point of time, any person can get married at any age in Massachusetts,” Ms. Chandler said. “You can get married at 12, you can get married at 10, you can get married at any age; there’s no limit. Evidence has shown that that’s not a good idea, and that 18 seems like the best idea that gives a young person the chance to go to high school, gives them a chance to find their own voice, gives them a chance to determine who they are as a person.
“We just want young women to have the opportunity to grow up enough … and to be mature enough to make up their minds,” she said.
In a recent T&G article, about 1,200 children as young as 14 were married in Massachusetts from 2000 to 2016, according to the Department of Public Health, the majority of which – 89 percent – were girls married to adult men. In Worcester County alone, 205 children were married, an overall 17 percent of all minor marriages in the state.
“Those years make a difference in a person’s life, between 16 and 18, between 14 and 18, between 12 and 18; one is a child and one is more of a young adult,” Ms. Chandler said. “They hopefully have found their own voice by (the time they turn 18) and know what they want to do, or at least have a better chance at knowing what they want to do.”
Not only do individuals who choose to get married at 18 have a better sense of their future, Ms. Khan said they also have more access to legal actions necessary to a marriage than if they were wed at a younger age.
“If you are a married child and you are still a minor, you do not have adult rights,” Ms. Khan said in a statement. “You cannot file for divorce, annulment, protective order, rent an apartment, open a checking account, or seek services from the Department of Children and Families.”
Tammy Monteiro, a survivor of child marriage and speaker at the chain-in, said that child marriage put her “at risk for domestic violence” and “spiritual abuse.” She got married to a 25-year-old man at the age of 16, with whom she shares eight children.
“I got married at an age where I didn’t know what marriage was about; I didn’t know what the contract entailed,” Ms. Monteiro said. “Really, I got coerced into marriage.”
Ms. Chandler’s bill in the Senate was heard by the committee Tuesday. Ms. Khan said the House version will be heard soon.
The “chain-in” concluded with the advocates marching in the Statehouse singing an anthem to end child marriage, “We are girls, not brides. We know our rights. We speak them out.”
This article was previously featured in the Worcester Telegram.