End Forced Marriage in the United States!
Forced and child marriage is a global problem, but it doesn’t just happen “over there” – it affects individuals living right here in the United States.
A 2011 national survey found that as many as 3,000 cases of forced marriage were encountered in just a 2-year period, all across the country. Thousands of women and girls in the U.S., and also men and boys, may be at risk each year. It’s happening in families of many different cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds. Victims may be forced into marriages here in the U.S. – maybe at the courthouse just down the street from you – or may be taken (tricked or forced) to another country for the ceremony.
That is why we are calling on President Obama to create a national action plan to protect all individuals at risk and to support survivors of forced and child marriage.
U.S. victims of forced and child marriage face severe and lifelong consequences – including physical, psychological, sexual, and economic abuse, medical and mental health problems, being pulled out of school or college, and a loss of freedom to choose and make their own futures.
A victim may have only one chance to reach out for help and yet here, in the United States of America, with all our laws and resources, she will often fall between the cracks. In fact, only 16% of national survey respondents felt their agencies were equipped to help individuals facing forced marriages.
The professionals to whom a victim reaches out to for help – including teachers and counselors, social workers and domestic violence advocates, police and child protection officers – may not believe what she’s telling them or appreciate the seriousness of the situation; may not understand the problem or know how to help; feel they shouldn’t get involved in a “family” or “cultural” matter; or face roadblocks or dead-ends themselves at every turn they take to try to help her.
Like other Western countries that are tackling this domestic human rights problem, we need a strategic and comprehensive national action plan to address forced marriage in the United States.
National action plans are critically important to outline the gaps and needs across all sectors and to drive and measure progress against specific goals. We need new tools and resources to end forced marriage, but there are also dozens of ways we can do so much more with what we already have (for example, by better leveraging existing hotlines, shelters, and anti-violence programs and services).
A national action plan will improve the government’s own response protocols – for example, when victims turn to the U.S. State Department or Consulates or law enforcement for help. And it will support and coordinate the efforts of hundreds of non-profit advocates working nationally and in communities to prevent forced marriages and to protect and support survivors.
Let forced marriage survivors like the young women below know they are not alone and that you stand with them – sign the petition for a national action plan today!
Looking at me, knowing my background and that my father was a preacher, you’d never think my father sexually abused me or that I’d been forced into a marriage after I left home at 18. But I was. It was devastating.
—“Sarah,” 19-year-old from fundamentalist Christian family
I come from a refugee Hmong family and many of my female cousins have been married off at a very young age through forced marriages. Many of them live a life of poverty filled with emotional and physical violence. I myself was almost forced into a marriage as a teenager but I chose to run away. In my community, a forced marriage may lead many girls like me to run away causing her to be at risk for prostitution, sexual assault and other forms of violence.
—“Nancy,” 27-year-old Hmong advocate against sexual violence
No one really understands the pressures. People think it’s easy to just say, “NO” but it's more than that. You can lose your family, your culture, everything! Forced marriage is one of those situations that makes you want to kill yourself or depression would kill you. Plus knowing that the man whom you are marrying was once your uncle and is 10 or 20 years older, makes me sick to my stomach.
—“Jolie,” 17-year-old from West African family
Marriage for me meant serving a man for life, ending my education, and never having the opportunity to make my dreams come true. With my family, I didn’t even have any dreams and I didn’t even know I could be someone other than an obedient daughter who sacrifices herself for her family’s reputation.
—“Maya,” 22-year-old Pakistani-American student
THANK YOU FOR TAKING ACTION AND MAKING A DIFFERENCE!
Want to do more to join the national movement to end forced marriage in the U.S.? Click here to learn about Tahirih Justice Center's work!
Or to learn about efforts to prevent child, early and forced marriage outside the U.S. and the vitally important leadership role the U.S. can play, please read this blog.
Dear President Obama,
As you know, child, early and forced marriage is an alarming global threat. According to the United Nations Population Fund’s report, "Marrying Too Young: End Child Marriage," an estimated 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 are forced to marry each year.
But you may not know that it also claims victims right here in the United States. In fact, the United States lags behind over a dozen other Western countries in recognizing and addressing the problem inside its borders.
Right now, right here in the U.S., thousands of people are at risk of this profound human rights violation. Forced marriage here impacts all ages and genders and happens in families of many different ethnic, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds.
We write to ask that you take seriously the human rights of individuals in the United States – girls and women as well as men and boys – who are facing or fleeing forced marriages.
An individual who is forced into a marriage is also forced into a life and future she did not choose and in which she has little to no say. Being forced into a marriage can also mean other severe violations and abuses, including rape, domestic violence, forced labor, forced pregnancy, the end to a young person’s education, and the deprivation of other basic freedoms and opportunities.
Among other growing evidence that forced marriage is a serious domestic problem, a 2011 national survey by Tahirih Justice Center identified as many as 3,000 cases encountered over just two years. Almost half of all survey respondents (legal and social services providers, community advocates, law enforcement, and others) had encountered a case, and cases were reported in nearly every state. Yet less than one in five felt equipped to help individuals facing forced marriages. Current laws and resources are inadequate to address the unique challenges that forced marriage cases pose.
We need your help today to end forced marriage in the United States. Each day of delay could mean a life sentence for another victim.
We urge you to consult with key stakeholders and solicit broad input to create a national action plan to address forced marriage in the United States.
The White House has a critically important role to play. Your Administration can serve as a powerful catalyst and connector of efforts both at the national and state levels, across agencies and sectors, and between NGOs and government.
Simply by better leveraging existing federal government programs that support violence prevention and victim assistance and promote healthy families around the country, we could make tremendous progress.
Several hundred such grant programs and millions of dollars are already deployed through the U.S. Departments of Justice and of Health and Human Services, many of which should consider forced marriage to fall squarely within their scope. The federal government should also promote forced marriage awareness, training, shared learning, and best practices development among all its grantees working in violence prevention and victim assistance.
These are just a few examples of the myriad ways in which a national action plan could catalog existing resources to be better employed and identify critical gaps to be filled. The reality that forced marriage victims in the United States face now may be bleak, but we have countless opportunities ahead to radically change that outlook and dramatically improve outcomes, with your help.
Thank you for your efforts to end all forms of violence against women, family violence and human rights abuses, including forced marriage. We hope you will find this petition especially timely as you develop other national strategies to address such violations worldwide.
Tahirih Justice Center started this petition with a single signature, and now has 131,224 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.