When we think of the issue of child brides, we likely think of countries such as India or Zambia or some other remote place, but the truth is, the issue of children being married off without consent also occurs in the U.S.
The numbers are staggering. In the state of Virginia from 2004 to 2014, nearly 5,000 children were reportedly married off. In the state of New York between 2000 and 2010, nearly 4,000 children were married off.
The organization Unchained At Last is working to put an end to the issue of child brides. The organization highlights stories of girls who were forced into an underage marriage.
Sofia Mahjebin’s story is one of them. When Sofia began skipping school at the age of 10 to ride the subways in New York City, her parents threatened to marry her off. She shares that she was genuinely frightened because she knew this was not an idle threat.
Sofia had witnessed some of her young relatives be married off by their families, so she turned to Unchained at Last representative Fraidy Reiss for help.
“We’ve had clients from Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds who are married as children. And they have come from every socioeconomic level, from both multigenerational American families as well as immigrant families,” Reiss said.
Others grew up in such strict, conservative families that even if their marriages were arranged when they were 18 or older, they realized later that they had really been only children in their mindset.
“My family arranged my marriage when I was 19. So, I was not a child even though I was a teenager. So, even at 19, I didn’t have agency. I didn’t have the ability to say no,” Reiss said, sharing some of her own story with arranged marriage and being a child bride.
Although it was a difficult road, both Reiss and Sofia Mahjebin were able to escape the fate of being child brides, but Reiss hopes Unchained At Last can reach many others.