Ending Child Marriage: A Priority to Ending A Cycle of Violence

Content warning: sexual assault, suicide, physical violence

On May 10, Sudanese courts sentenced a 19-year-old girl to death for defending herself and stabbing her rapist, whom she had been forced to marry at age 16. Although the sentence was overturned over a month later, Noura’s case has prompted international outcry and has further highlighted the need to address child marriage, which about 12 million girls experience each year.

When discussing child marriage, it is imperative to recognize its connection to intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. According to a UNICEF report, girls who marry in their childhood are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. In fact, girls who get married under the age of 15 are 50% more likely to suffer physical or sexual violence from a partner. Girls Not Brides further reports that ending child marriage would reduce rates of intimate partner violence by more than 10% in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Uganda.

Additionally, child brides are more likely to describe their first sexual experience as forced – as was the case for Noura. In fact, one study in northern Ethiopia found that 81% of girls who were married at ages 10-19 “described their first sexual experience as against their will.” Likewise, in India, child brides were three times more likely to be raped than those who married later. Other studies have reported that many women who were married young continue to be raped throughout their marriages.

As noted by Global Citizen, child marriage often forces children to be separated from their family and friends and “transferred to (their spouses) like a piece of property.” This can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors – all of which are associated with child marriage. Furthermore, child brides are often deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety, have a higher risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and are more likely to live in poverty. All of these conditions uphold a cycle of violence against the children, which continues into their adulthoods and oftentimes into the next generation. Child marriage also “ensures that (girls) remain dependent on others all their lives, strips them of their agency, and hands control over their lives to someone else” – therefore systematically disempowering them.

 

Source: https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/GNB-Child-marriage-human-rights-infographic-1200px.jpg

On the contrary, girls who remain with their families and continue their education are able to become financially independent and “engage more fully with society.” In fact, just one extra year of primary education can boost a girl’s future earnings by 15%. Thus, by robbing girls of education and economic opportunities, child marriage forces girls into a cycle of poverty – the very poverty that oftentimes is the reason they were forced into their marriages in the first place.

 

Here in the United States, more than 248,000 children had been married, mostly to adult men, between the years of 2000 and 2010. In Virginia specifically, almost 4,500 children were married from 2004 to 2013. Of these children, 90% were girls, and 90% were married to adults. Virginia records additionally showed brides and grooms as young as 12 years old. Although the minimum age of marriage in most US states is 18, 48 out of 50 states have exceptions that allow children under 18 to get married. Furthermore, in half of those states, there is no minimum age at all below which children cannot get married – despite the fact that the age of consent, across the nation, ranges from 16 to 18 years old.

In 2011 alone, in New York, state data showed that a 14-year-old was wed to a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old to a 25-year-old, and a yet another 15-year-old to someone aged 35 to 39. Such age differences would typically result in third-degree rape charges, which occurs when a person over the age of 21 has sex with a child under the age of 17, a felony punishable with up to four years in prison. However, a current loophole exempts New York’s statutory rape law from applying to those who engage in sex with juveniles they are married to. As one author wrote in the Houston Chronicle, “marriage provides a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card for perpetrators, while doing nothing to protect the girls.”

Although some may argue that there is not much difference between an 18-year-old’s level of maturity versus a 17-year-old’s, Fraidy Reiss, the founder of the nonprofit Unchained At Last, notes an important distinction. “It’s about legal capacity. In most states, you’re not legally an adult until age 18, meaning you can’t take the legal steps you might need to protect yourself if you are married before then, including getting into a domestic violence shelter, retaining a lawyer, and getting a divorce,” Reiss told Global Citizen. “It puts the lock into wedlock.”

It was not until May 2018 that Delaware became the first US state to ban all child marriage, without exceptions. While several other states are in the process of following suit, there is still considerable – and urgent – work to be done. Girls Not Brides has reported that if child marriage is not reduced, the number of women around the world married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050 – “with devastating consequences for the whole world.”

Ending child marriage is a necessary component of ending sexual violence and intimate partner violence. There are many ways to join the movement to end child marriage, such as supporting girls’ education – a powerful tool to empower girls and allow them the opportunity to grow into confident and independent women.  It is also important to recognize that education alone will not end child marriage, as the issue is multifaceted and caused by various factors including gender inequality and poverty. Although the various, overlapping aspects of child marriage can make it harder to eradicate, they also allow for countless opportunities to get involved. Lawmakers can work to close loopholes in laws and policies that leave children vulnerable; teachers and community leaders can learn to recognize signs of child marriage, as well as form trustful relations with children they mentor so that children may feel comfortable seeking help from them if a harmful situation arises; and all concerned individuals can use their voices to call on global leaders and politicians to protect children.

If we work together to tackle child marriage, we can create a world where girls and women are empowered, in charge of their own destinies, and able to live their lives free of violence,” said Mabel van Oranje, the Princess of Orange-Nassau and co-founder of Girls Not Brides. “This is a world that makes all of us better off.”

Featured image source: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/delaware-child-marriage-ban-us-first/

 


Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a concept in Judaism that refers to “repairing the world” and is often used to support and protect those who are disadvantaged. The power of Tikkun Olam is that it speaks to the world being broken and the intent to fix (repair) it. For a Jewish survivor, Tikkun Olam could be an important cultural component to the healing process.

This summer, the Virginia Department of Social Services awarded grants to six culturally and population specific organizations to provide new domestic violence services to the underserved communities they serve. Representing communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, religious minorities and LGBTQ people, these organizations are trusted entities possessing a deep understanding of the barriers people in their communities face as well as the strengths and assets embedded in their communities. The six organizations include:

Tikkun-OlamGreater Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) is committed to serving Jewish survivors and other religious minorities experiencing domestic abuse. Guided by the Jewish concepts, Tikkun Olam “to repair the world” and Shalom Bayit “peace in the home” JCADA understands how faith can be a source of strength.

Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC) will launch Safe Journeys, an outreach, counseling and assistance program that provides culturally and linguistically tailored case management to survivors. ECDC has multicultural and multi lingual staff who work with African immigrants and refugees in Northern Virginia.

Boat People SOS, Inc. (BPSOS) has supported the Vietnamese community for 38 years and will launch the Communities Against Domestic Violence (CADV) in Northern Virginia. A large number of refugees have a history of trauma having fled unsafe homes and/or communities in Vietnam.  CADV will address two compounding, cross-cutting problems that affect a large portion of Vietnamese Americans: dv and trauma.

Heal Concept Metal Letterpress Word in DrawerSacred Heart Center (SHC), located in Richmond, is a hub for the Latinx community serving clients from the entire metropolitan area. Funding will allow the SHC to provide new domestic violence services including case management, in part through an expanded relationship with Safe Harbor providing culturally specific service.

LGBT Life Center in Hampton Roads provides comprehensive services to the LGBT community from a staff who understands the unique barriers to and opportunities for safety  and healing.  LGBT Life Center will provide crisis services to survivors and their families and will work with Opinion Leaders to raise awareness about domestic  violence in their community and share resources through their social networks.

Also in Hampton Roads, the Hampton Roads Community Action Program (HRCAP) addresses poverty through many programs and strategies.  A specific focus has been on African American families residing in public housing and other neighborhoods of Southeast Newport News.  As a multi-service agency, HRCAP clients have access to a  wide breadth of services including new domestic violence advocacy and counseling for survivors and their families.

We are inspired by the work of our six new grantees who affirm their communities’ cultures and experiences and we look forward to learning through these new partnerships! Chào mừng đến với, ברוך הבא, ሀልሎ አንድ ወልጮመ, bienvenido, welcome!


Alyssa Murray is a Domestic Violence Program Specialist with the Virginia Department of Social Services.  She has worked in the fields of domestic violence, public health, homelessness and education over the last 25 years.  Her first experience working with survivors was at the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society located on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the home of the Sicangu Oyate Lakota Nation.

Outside of work, Alyssa is a poet, a mom to two teenagers, and a human companion to two hound dogs.  She works with the immigrant community in Richmond and is writing a children’s book about Irene Morgan and Elizabeth Van Lew.

You can contact Alyssa at alyssa.murray@dss.virginia.gov

 

 

 

Meet Katie Moffitt, UPLC Coach!

We welcomed two incredible additions to the Action Alliance staff in May–both Coaches for our new Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative (UPLC). They are Quan Williams and Katie Moffitt. Two weeks ago we wrote about Quan, and this week we focus on Katie; keep reading for a bit of insight into the social justice roots that inform her tattoos and her hopes for her new position with the Action Alliance.

Katie, what’s your story?

I have an MSW and have been in the field for 8 years. I’ve worked as a clinician, adjunct professor, and as a preventionist at two local Sexual & Domestic Violence Agencies in Virginia. I love animals, baseball, playing trivia, cooking, gardening, cheese, collecting ice molds, making pun inspired Halloween costumes, and my friends and family.

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Ice molds!

What is an UPLC Coach and what excites you about being a Coach?

Being a UPLC Coach is more than a job to me; it’s a calling. Having worked in the field for quite some time I’ve had the good fortune to work with a diverse group of people and have learned that everyone has something new and wonderful to contribute. I’ve also been witness to just how very real historical and systemic oppression are in our culture and how they’ve contributed to the reinforcement of violence.  The UPLC will allow us to work collectively to identify and address barriers while also enhancing the things we’re already doing well in order to better provide services to underserved populations.

If you were an animal/food/tattoo, what kind would you be and why?

If I were a tattoo I would be the ones I have currently and the ones I have planned. Each tattoo represents something, some idea, or people of importance to me. I have ants because I’m a dedicated Aunt to four awesome kiddos, the socioecological model (SEM) because of my time spent as a preventionist going upstream to figure out how to effect change on all levels of the SEM, dandelions for all of the survivors I’ve worked with and known over the years as a representation of the resiliency, potency, and beauty that they all possess, a fox for my godson and community in Winchester; and I’m working on a tattoo that will represent the importance of joy, silliness, brightness, and the simple pleasures in life as a reminder to balance self-care and service.

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Katie’s “dictionfairy” costume.

What’s one goal you have for the next year as the new UPLC Coach?

The UPLC provides a unique opportunity for us, not only to work with agencies from around the state, but to also bring everyone together to learn from each other. I’m excited to get to build relationships with everyone and enhance services for Virginia’s underserved populations. My main goal for the first year is to assist Sexual and Domestic Violence Agencies in the pursuit of creating a Virginia that is more inclusive, culturally responsive, and equitable to all of those in need of services.

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Trivia team


To reach Katie, email her at kmoffitt@vsdvalliance.org. To learn about the UPLC project, visit our website here.

Children, Families, Survivors, Our Nation, and Humanity Deserve Better Than Family Separation and Family Detainment

George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

During a shameful era of our nation’s history, then-President Franklin Roosevelt isolated thousands of people of Japanese ancestry and forced them into concentration camps under the guise of national security. Although separation of families was not part of the policy, over a thousand people were incarcerated and unable to communicate with their family members. Of those forced into detainment, at least 17,000 were children under the age of ten. Conditions of the concentration camps included overcrowding and excessive police force and brutality.

Now, a little over 70 years since the closing of the last American concentration camp, history has been doomed to repeat itself. In April, the Trump administration passed a “zero-tolerance” policy of forced separation of migrant families – which resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 migrant children from their parents. Then, last week, Trump issued an executive order ending the forced separation and instead replacing it with indefinite family detention, meaning that “children would be held in facilities that are essentially jails with their parents for months, or even years, until they ultimately received legal status — or, more likely, until they were finally deported.”

It has been proven that exposure to such toxic stress in children’s leaves – whether it’s getting forcibly removed from their parents or suffering detainment during their childhoods – has serious, long-term consequences for children’s development. Such toxic stress can lead to stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flooding children’s systems – hormones that over time can start killing off neurons and thus resulting in consequences that may cause not only learning and behavioral problems, but physical and mental health problems as well.

Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, has stated that with each day that children are separated from their parents, their stress responses are persistently triggered – thus “having a wear and tear effect on their developing brains and all of their biological systems.” Not only does this severely impact the 2,000+ children who have already been forcibly separated from their parents, without a concrete plan for their reunification, but also the children who will now be indefinitely detained. Even for families that do not get separated, their detainment can “compromise a parent’s role as ‘parent,’” as well as “undermine the critical parent-child relationship.”

A 2015 report on the harmful impacts of family detention on children stated that children in detention facilities are ten times more likely than adults to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was also reported by medical experts that detention conditions could have life-long consequences for a child’s academic, economic, and social development. Furthermore, a therapist who worked with many previously-interned Japanese-American clients, stated that such trauma “manifests decades later as depression, strained family relationships, and a lifelong sense of undeserved guilt and fear of authority.”

Studies have shown that as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) – which include parental separation, incarcerated household members, emotional neglect, and physical neglect – increase, so did the risk of experiencing sexual violence in adulthood. This means that by forcibly separating children from their parents or incarcerating them with their families, the administration is subjecting children to adverse childhood experiences that can leave them vulnerable to violence as they grow older.

Additionally, the aforementioned fear of authority that results from the trauma of being detained during childhood can prevent the currently detained or separated children from seeking help later on in life if they experience sexual or domestic violence. Regardless of the outcome of immigration policies – whether these children are deported from the United States or if they’re given a path to citizenship – this fear of authority instilled in them from a young age will likely continue to haunt them long after the inhumane immigration policies are removed.

Similarly, this cruelty towards undocumented immigrants – as epitomized by the separation and detainment of young children – will further increase the fear of authority for undocumented persons currently living in the US. Various reports have already shown that many survivors of domestic or sexual violence do not seek help due to their fear of deportation. In fact, according to a NY Times article published in 2017, reports of sexual and domestic violence among Latinxs across the country have had a sharp downturn since the 2016 presidential election – which many experts attribute to the increased fears of deportation. And now, with this cruel and immoral immigration policy, this fear of authority and fear to seek help will likely only worsen for undocumented survivors of violence. This means survivors may be forced to stay in unsafe situations and have less access to support.

If children are not immediately reunited with their parents and if our nation continues to impede reproductive justice by revoking parents’ rights to parent their children in safe, supportive environments, we will be a nation that traumatizes children and fails to protect and support survivors of violence. First Focus, an organization dedicated to prioritizing children and families in federal policy decisions, suggests child-friendly alternatives to detaining families, such as community-based programs that address families awaiting their immigration proceedings. Not only are such programs significantly more cost-efficient, ranging from 70 cents to $17 dollars a day instead of the $373 daily cost of detaining a mother or child, but they allow children to live in a home setting, enroll in school, and can assist their families in connecting to crucial legal assistance and social services.

Today, I ask us all to remember. Remember our past. Remember our nation’s – and humanity’s – shameful times, as to not repeat them. And remember our most glorious times – the times when we exhibited kindness, the times when we protected those who were most vulnerable, the times when we made sure that good triumphed over evil. And, many, many years from now, may we remember today as a time when families were safe, when children were protected, and when humanity remained steadfast in the fight for justice.



Featured image source: https://www.zazzle.com/immigrant_justice_mini_poster-228432137731714096



Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

Welcome Quan Williams, UPLC Coach!

We welcomed two incredible additions to the Action Alliance staff in May–both Coaches for our new Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative (UPLC). They are Quan Williams and Katie Moffitt. This week we’re focusing on Quan; keep reading for a bit of insight into her hopes for her new position and a few everyday things that bring her joy. Stay tuned for Katie’s introduction in two weeks!

Quan Williams is a native of Chicago, Illinois, and was raised in Southern California.  She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Northridge. In 2011, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy.  There, she received the Rob Mier Scholarship Award for urban planners committed to social justice for neighborhoods and residents. She is a class of 2015 graduate from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University where she earned a Master’s Degree in Divinity.  Her professional interest is centered at the intersection of Public Policy and Advocacy.

What is an UPLC Coach and what excites you about being a UPLC Coach?

An UPLC Coach is a Project Coach for the Underserved Populations Learning Collaborative.

The UPLC is a partnership between the Action Alliance, the Virginia Department of Social Services, the Department of Criminal Justice Services and community sexual and domestic violence agencies to build capacity in providing culturally responsive and trauma-informed services and programs to underserved populations. We will do so by working directly with community sexual and domestic violence agencies to integrate social justice, racial justice, and changes in policy and practice at all levels of the organization.

What’s one goal you have for the next year as the new UPLC Coach?

One of my goals is to provide excellent support and technical assistance to the selected agencies that will participate in the project.

What’s your favorite accessory?

Scarves. I legit have dozens of scarves. One of the best things about a chilly day is wearing a wonderful scarf.

scarves1

Favorite magazine?

It’s a tie between Ebony Magazine & Time Magazine.

Favorite band?

The Roots. Hands down.  But Common’s new group August Greene is becoming a close second.

What do you do when you’re not working?

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Church events. Movies. Watching sports. Good August Wilson type theater. Live music. Learning to play the guitar. I’m also an amateur photographer with an old school manual camera; I specialize in black and white pics.  And I’m trying to improve my health and enjoy weight training.


To reach  Quan, email Quan at qwilliams@vsdvalliance.org.To learn about the UPLC project, visit our website here.