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In America

Exposé pulls back the curtain on problem of forced child marriage in the U.S.

September 14, 2016

An exposé on the shocking number of girls who continue to be forced into marriage in the United States will air Wednesday and Thursday nights as part of a two-part special for PBS NewsHour. The series will feature interviews conducted by Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who spent four years meeting and talking with victims of forced marriage in order to help bring their plight into the public eye. Lemmon has also been a contributor for Women in the World. “This is a story so few know is happening right down their street,” Lemmon told Women in the World in an email. “I’ve been everyplace from south Bronx to San Diego and a lot of places in between working on this, and the incredibly brave women who speak out in this story really represent so many others we’ll never meet.”

Among the stories featured will be that of a New Jersey girl named Jada, whose father brought her with him to live in Saudi Arabia. At the age of 12, her father decided to marry her off — it would be up to Jada’s half-sister back in New Jersey to drive a complex legal struggle to help Jade avoid the marriage and get back home. In the video clip below, Jada tells a harrowing tale about why her father forced her to walk on his right side while they were together in public — so other Saudi men would know that she was for sale. Apparently, it’s a cultural signal there.

Another woman featured in an interview is Nina, a 33-year-old Michigan woman, who said she was seeking an annulment because she had been married against her will at the age of 19. The case is perhaps the first of its kind in the U.S., and could shape future legal precedent in cases of forced marriage. Watch a short clip of Nina’s story below, where she talks about sex with her “husband” came to feel like imprisonment and tantamount to rape.

Fraidy, an advocate who said she was a former victim of a forced marriage herself, told Lemmon that it was “important to raise awareness and to talk about [forced marriage] publicly, because you can’t solve a problem that nobody knows exists.”

Read Lemmon’s essay on how she came to put this report together over the course of four years at PBS Newshour.


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