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Letters to Schumer: End Child Marriage

Letters to Schumer #5


Letters to Schumer is a series in which we’re publishing a collection of Natalie Holme Elsberg’s letters sent to Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Find the previous letter here.

I started writing letters to Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, (and arguably most senior Democrat), shortly after I discovered Resistbot. I sit in a darkened room with my little ones as they fall asleep after story time. As I scroll through the news of the day, every story brings a new outrage. Schumer voted to confirm Trump appointments? Sean Spicer said what? Trump did what? A Muslim Ban – are you kidding me? Alternative facts? #ShePersisted!? The State Department is advertising Trump’s properties? Open Kleptocracy?! We need to break up airline monopolies! Another person was shot for being black while driving!? How do we have money for a huge bomb to drop on Syria and none for healthcare and education?! The DNC lawyer said THAT?! And so on…

Still stung by the DNC’s conduct during the primary election and angry with the Clinton campaign for its hubris and mismanagement for losing against an even worse candidate than Clinton, I fired off a couple of text paragraphs. Resistbot turned it into a letter and faxed it off to Washington D.C. Much more cathartic than haranguing my neighbors, children, family, dinner companions, and fellow dog-walkers and strangers with my daily outrage! And *maybe* more effective. I mean, I had plenty of reasons to be mad at former President Obama — including the Wall Street Bailout, Standing Rock, the expanded NSA powers, deportations and bombing seven (!) Muslim-majority countries as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but overall I believed in his integrity and that somehow he was trying his best to do his best, even when I disagreed with him, but I wasn’t tempted to yell at him every darn day.  Sometimes I can’t resist SHOUTING at Senator Schumer IN ALL CAPS, because …. WTF CHUCK?! I think of it as putting Senator Chuckie on notice. Hey, at least he won’t be able to say: “Nobody told me!”

On the theory (and considerable evidence from this last slow-motion-train-wreck of an election cycle) that our elected Democratic Party representatives may not actually have a clue, I have been employing my texting thumbs to complain, cajole, and educate them on their mistakes and also on what progressive policy looks like. (Resistbot will send your letter to all your Senators and Congresspeople if you ask it to.) On their federal responsibilities, and their duty to coordinate and empower state and local government. The right wing and Tea Party activists together with ALEC successfully took over legislation and policy at the state and local level while the Democratic Party was asleep at the wheel. A group of us got together and formed LEAP, which is putting together progressive model legislation for the state and local level — watch this space.

So consider these templates and examples — you can do it too. Feel free to copy, paste, send, call, fax or scribble a postcard. Holding our reps accountable is an important part of the renaissance in democratic engagement we see going on in town halls and protests across the nation. Let’s push them in a progressive direction and promote the progressive narrative. It takes 5-10 minutes a day… and it’s better therapy than yelling at the Rachel Maddow Show.

Dear Senator Schumer,

END CHILD MARRIAGE IN THE US: Please Support A Federal Law To Outlaw Marriage Before 18

It is a shocking disgrace and an embarrassment that 14-year-olds can legally marry in New York State.  I am writing to ask you to support and push for a law to end child marriage in New York and across the nation.

A new bill to end child marriage has passed the New York Senate and now must pass the Assembly before the end of the legislative session on June 21.  Between 2000 and 2010, 3,850 children below the age of 18 married in New York, the majority of them underage girls who married adult men. This is a shockingly outdated and abusive law, which should be changed immediately.  It is also not the only one in the nation!

According to Human Rights Watch: “Research shows that child marriage is terribly harmful. Married children often leave school, which often leaves them trapped in poverty. Married girls face serious health risks, and their children also often face lifelong consequences. Girls who marry earlier face a heightened risk of domestic violence, and greater difficulty escaping an abusive marriage.”

(“Data after 2010 excludes New York City, where statistics are kept separately. Still, the state data show that in 2011 alone, a 14-year-old married a 26-year-old, a 15-year-old was wed to a 28-year-old, another 15-year-old was wed to a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old married someone age 35 to 39. All of those marriages were approved by New York judges.”)

The State Department recognized in 2016 that marriage for a child under 18 is a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.” In addition, “Before they reach the age of majority (usually 18), children cannot easily access the legal and other resources they need to protect themselves from being forced into marriage or to escape from an abusive marriage. Often they cannot easily access domestic violence shelters, retain an attorney (because contracts with children typically are voidable) or file a legal action such as a divorce.”

Right now, in some states, children can get married but cannot file for divorce. Child marriage is associated with higher rates of death resulting from childbirth, unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy termination, and malnutrition in their own children. Children who married before 18 are three times more likely to have been beaten by their spouses than women who married at 21 or older.

Today, 88% of countries set 18 as the minimum legal age for marriage.  How is it the case that the US, and in particular, New York State, the State that you represent at the Federal level, is such a laggard in protecting the rights of its own girls?

As Tahirih Justice Center writes, “Cumulatively … the size of America’s child marriage problem is huge: a 2011 research report projected that over 9.4 million U.S. women had married at age 16 or younger and that nearly 1.7 million had married at age 15 or younger.  While some of those marriages may have happened decades ago, the truth is that many states, laws on minimum marriage age have remained the same for decades. And some (like Massachusetts) still enshrine values that prioritize parents’ wishes over children’s rights.”

It is long past time for there to be a nation-wide age threshold to protect girls from child  marriage across the United States.  Although New York is making some strides in this regard, clearly there are still states within our union for whom girls’ health, equality, and opportunity are not priorities, and this is an opportunity for the Federal Government to take the lead.

Although marriage is generally an issue for the states, the federal government has, in the past, seen fit to define marriage for the purpose of eligibility for federal marriage benefits (and, for example, as a precondition for granting statehood to Utah).  Furthermore, there is a powerful equal protection argument to be made, as female children are disproportionately impacted by child marriage.

Please introduce and support federal legislation to outlaw child marriage below the age of 18. Generations of women, children, and their families will thank you.

Natalie Holme Elsberg

Former student anti-apartheid activist, extremely vetted immigrant, mom of three and devoted spouse, outraged citizen and Bernie bro, believer in shared prosperity and equal justice for all.

Follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieElsberg. She also works with LEAP , which you can follow on Twitter @advprogress.

Natalie is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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Letters to Schumer: End Child Marriage