Ex-Child Bride Fighting to Ban Underage Marriage

A woman who was married against her will as a teenager is fighting to ban underage marriage in the United States. Genevieve Meyer married a 43-year-old man at age 15 in a courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi, having been promised to him by a drug-addicted mother. Police arrested John Molloy for molesting the girl a year earlier, but her mother assured him she would not pursue criminal charges if he agreed to marry the child.

Ms. Meyer recounts that Molloy then drove them across the country from their home in California to Mississippi, where a judge agreed to perform the ceremony. She felt she felt nauseous and trapped while the wedding was performed. The couple divorced in 2000, and Meyer now lives with her husband of 15 years in Indiana. She says she is committed to fighting for law change to protect young girls from forced marriages in the US. “This really is America’s dirty little secret,” she said.

Equality Now, an organization that campaigns for justice for women and girls, says underage marriage is currently legal in 40 American states. It describes the practice as extremely harmful and amounting to “state-sanctioned rape.” Only Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont require parties to a marriage to be at least 18.

A 2021 study found that 300,000 children were married in the US between 2000 and 2018. Most involve underage girls marrying older men (86%) and Unchained at Last, a campaign group that conducted the study, noted that the majority of girls were aged 16 or 17, but some were as young as 10.

Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, blames “archaic and dangerous laws” for permitting the practice. These include federal laws that impose no age limit on petitions for a foreign spouse or fiancé to enter the United States. Reiss claims that many underage American girls are used to help older men abroad gain US visas.