Child marriage laws in CA act as loopholes that allow for statutory rape

I was coerced into a spiritual marriage at the age of 15 through a strict religious upbringing and through fear of a father who was physically and mentally abusive toward me for most of my childhood.

My mother did not know I was being given away in a religious ceremony to a man almost twice my age. If she had known, she would have reported my kidnapping and statutory rape to the authorities. I met my “husband” to be the same day we were spiritually married. After the ceremony, he left the country with me. Then, at 16 and pregnant, we returned to California and were legally married. I was not yet able to obtain a driver’s license, but somehow under the eyes of the law, I was a wife.

You might be wondering how this happened here in the United States? My story is not as uncommon as you might think. There are many girls in the United States and in California who are legally married at surprisingly young ages. The legal age for giving sexual consent in California is 18 (according to Penal Code sec. 261-269), yet the marriage exception laws in the state of California allow minors to be married with no minimum age. This loophole in the California marriage law allows sexual predators to marry minors thus circumventing statutory rape laws.

Underage marriage affects all religions and backgrounds, and it thrives in the United States because many states, including California, have exceptions written into their marriage laws for minors to be married with parental consent. These laws disproportionately affect girls. According to a Pew Research Report, “approximately 5.5 in a 1000 minors (girls) are married in CA, compared to 4.6 in 1000 in the US overall.” Based on the American Community Survey findings, “between 2010 and 2014 6.8 in every 1000 15-17 year olds were married in CA.” California is ranked sixth in the nation per capita of 15- to 17-year-old marriages.

Senate Bill 273 proposed by State Sen. Jerry Hill seeks to amend current California marriage law in an attempt to close this loophole. SB 273 has been watered down significantly, and it does not go far enough to stop the abuse of minors in this state. Under the current proposed bill, minors would have to undergo separate interviews to determine permission to marry. While this is a step in the right direction, it will not serve to protect minors from entering into what most would consider the biggest contract of their lives. If minors do not have the ability to consent to sex, vote, or even buy a pack of cigarettes, they should not have the ability into a marriage contract where consent is questionable and easily coerced. There are cases where minors enter into successful marriages, but those cases are the minority. The overwhelming majority of underage marriages (70 to 80 percent) end up in divorce.

The religious group my dad was a part of coerced girls to get married at young ages. The youngest girl I knew who was forced into marriage was 14. She was forced to marry after being raped. Typically, a younger (virgin) girl was wed to an older man. This group was not in another country, they were based in the Bay Area.

Marriage should be a partnership, entered into willfully by both parties. My marriage was a far cry from that. I was still a teenager with hopes and dreams before I was forced to marry. When I was 15, I dreamed of being an attorney. Instead of pursuing an education, I found myself in a relationship where I was being controlled physically, mentally and financially. In our group, women were meant to serve and bear children. Having a career was out of the question, and thinking about a future beyond marriage and motherhood was highly discouraged.

I was desperate, however, to have a future beyond being a mother and wife and so I found my strength in fighting for my education. Against the wishes of the group, I started taking classes at City College of San Francisco. I took public transit each day to attend my classes. When I finally obtained my culinary degree from CCSF, and I got a job and my own car. I felt empowered enough to leave my unhappy marriage. It took me all of eight long years to finally leave. I was 23.

Why are the laws in the state of California not doing more to protect minors? The underage exceptions written into California’s marriage laws must be done away with completely to prevent parental coercion and sexual abuse of minors.

Sara Tasneem is a student at Golden Gate University studying business management and public administration. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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  • DirtyPanties

    Many coerced marriages still exist in rural parts of the good old USA for $$$ gain for the parents of the children/girls. Don’t think this is only going on in foreign countries with foreign men.

  • Jody

    It’s not as black and white as it may appear Google “The Great American Controversy Over Underage Marriage [Table Of Contents]” by epicenterdefacto.

  • Jody
  • Jody

    There are two sides to every issue, and this particular topic of underage marriage here in the United States of America has only been getting attention from one standpoint. Google the article “The Great American Controversy Over Underage Marriage” by epicenterdefacto, and all of you will get a clearer perspective on this topic. Banning all marriage under 18 years old will do more harm than good to our nation.

  • The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are scrambling to defend these tragic Islamic Sharia Law marriages.

  • David Whiting

    A terrific, courageous and important column. , I am David Whiting, Metro Columnist at The Orange County Register, and I am working on a piece supporting the proposed bill. Sara, please contact me at [email protected] (my company is Southern California Newspaper Group) so we can connect. Thank you.

  • lspanker

    Ain’t multiculturalism wonderful? This is what happens when we insist that the culture of every group of backwards fruitcakes (I am addressing the writer’s father and “husband”, not her personally) is just as valid as our own western European-based civilization.

    • Jorge Carolinos

      There are western religionists who are cultists who think these underage marriages are OK. As much as I am not a fan of religion, no major western religion would think this is OK.

      A high school teacher who went into a supposedly consentual relationship in the same dynamic would never be allowed to pull the religion card.

      • Jorge Carolinos

        But yes, I get your “all cultures are equal” complaint. There are a few cultists from the western world who take advantage of this creepy behavior, while it is more main stream from we know who… whom. If it is right let it be right.

        • Jody

          There’s a big difference between forced child marriage and voluntary teenage marriage. This article here explains it.>>>

        • Jody

          However, there’s a big difference between forced child marriage and voluntary teenage marriage. This article here explains it. Google “The Great American Controversy Over Underage Marriage [Table Of Contents]” by epicenterdefacto.

          • DirtyPanties

            Tell me – why would a teenager voluntary desire marriage before their life has begun? What are the circumstances of this type of young love, could it be the child is desperate for love, attention due to their home life. Sorry – teenagers should not be permitted to become adults ahead of their maturity and education.

          • Jody

            DirtyPanties? If you read that article I cited above, from beginning to end, you will find plenty of examples of voluntary teenage marriages that had their happily ever afters. I’m going to try to provide you with the direct link in my next reply down below. I don’t know if the moderator of this webpage will allow me to post it, but I will give it a try. Even if you don’t agree with that article, you will find it very interesting.

          • Jody
    • Jody

      It is not as simple as it may seem. We Americans need to look before we leap. Here is an article regarding underage marriage that shows both sides of the issue.>>>>

    • Jody

      It is not as simple as it may seem. We Americans need to look before we leap in terms of changing the law. Here is an article regarding underage marriage that shows both sides of the issue. Google “The Great American Controversy Over Underage Marriage [Table Of Contents]” by epicenterdefacto.