Child marriage

Why Missouri has become a wedding destination for 15-year-old brides

Ashley Duncan. (Facebook / The Kansas City Star)

The idea of child marriage might conjure thoughts of places like Turkey, where, according to experts, nearly one-third of all marriages involve child brides. But in the U.S., child marriage may not seem to many like a blight, though in one state it’s far more common that many might imagine. Since the turn of the century, Missouri has essentially become a wedding destination for 15-year-old brides, who, in many cases, are marrying their rapists.

When Ashley Duncan was 15, she appeared before a pastor in Missouri to be married to her then 18-year-old boyfriend. She didn’t want to get married, but her family told her that if she didn’t go through with the nuptials her boyfriend would be charged with statutory rape. She was in ninth grade at the time. Speaking to The Kansas City Star, Duncan, now 24 and a mother of four children, recalled being asked by the pastor if she took the young man standing beside her as her lawfully-wedded husband.

“I said, ‘I guess,’” Ashley remembered. Her sister, she added, rebuked her, telling her that she should have replied with the traditional response, “I do.”

In Missouri, it only takes one parent’s signature, and no judicial oversight whatsoever, for girls as young as 15 to be married off. In retrospect, Duncan says she believes that the legal age of marriage should be raised to 18, and that a judge’s presence should be required for those seeking to obtain a marriage license. If she’d had the chance to speak with a judge, she pointed out, she would have learned that in Missouri statutory rape only applies to anyone 21 and older having sex with someone under age 17. Had she known that, she probably wouldn’t have gone through with the marriage to a man whom she eventually separated from after a number of violent arguments. She might also have been able to stay in school, instead of dropping out during her freshman year of high school.

“They wanted me to get married,” she said. “I knew I shouldn’t have been making that decision that young. It was just something they told me that, like, I had to do or my child’s father would go to jail.”

According to an eye-opening report by The Kansas City Star, more than 1,000 15-year-old girls reported getting married between 1999 and 2015. Of those, more than 300 married men age 21 or older. Missouri police say that many more such marriages are believed to occur without being reported to authorities. And it’s all very legal.

Below watch a video that shows Duncan along with Brittany Koerselman, Christy Stracener and Sammy Knowles discuss their experiences of tying the knot at the tender age of 15.


Read the full story at The Kansas City Star.


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