When someone says the word "marriage," you probably imagine beautiful gowns and bouquet tosses.
But for as many as 3,000 women and girls in America, that word only brings about horror and sadness. That's because, according to a 2011 National Survey conducted by nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center of immigrant communities, an estimated 3,000 people faced forced marriage over a two-year span between 2009 and 2011.
"In 2009 we launched the survey because there was no real data on the scope of the problem in the United States," Marlena Hartz, the communications manager for the Tahirih Justice Center told A+. "The survey found that it does impact all individuals regardless of age, generation, ethnicity or country of origin — its a problem across a wide range of populations."
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While it might be hard to imagine these things happening here in the United States, Change.org and the Tahirih Justice Center heard from several women from a variety of backgrounds who were forced into marriage.
"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," a 19-year-old from fundamentalist Christian family
"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," a 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," a 22-year-old Pakistani-American student
Unfortunately, according to the Tahirih Justice Center's report, America is behind other developed countries in providing resources for this kind of injustice:
The UK and a few other countries have begun to address forced marriage through new laws and policies. Since the early 1990s, non-governmental agencies in the UK have organized, coordinated, and advocated, making great strides.The UK government has established a "Forced Marriage Unit" and national helpline, and has even conducted overseas "rescue" operations; passed a law creating a special "forced marriage protective order" in family court; made changes to the visa sponsorship process; promoted extensive community education, outreach and training; and supported thousands of individuals trying to avoid or escape forced marriages.
The United States, however, lags far behind – and until now, has done little to recognize or address the problem of forced marriage. Domestically, there are no laws or policies in place specifically to help forced marriage victims, leaving young women (and some men)in crisis with few resources and options.
Globally, UNICEF has estimated more than 60 million women aged 20-24 were married as girls.
Together, we can put some pressure on President Obama to create a national action plan that can aid victims, and bring the United States up to speed with other nations.
Change.org contributed to the content of this post. You can sign their petition here.