Why is child marriage legal in the West?

Originally Published on UnHerd
12 August 2021

It's the one type of slavery the West ignores

“New York Officially Bans Child Marriage, Only Sixth State in the U.S. to do so.” You might picture this headline on a yellowing newspaper in the archives of a public library. But in actual fact it appeared online, less than a month ago. And yes, you read it correctly. New York is only the sixth American state to ban child marriage, meaning there is still a legal pathway to marrying a minor in 44 states.

Child marriage is merely a subset of the wider problem of forced marriage, which is staggering in scale. In 2016, the International Labour Organization found that “15.4 million people were living in a forced marriage to which they had not consented”. 37% of those victims are under the age of 18, and 44% of those children were “forced to marry before the age of 15 years”. “While men and boys,” the report states, “can also be victims of forced marriage,” 88% of victims are female. That figure rises among child victims of forced marriage: 96% were girls.

For me, the subject of forced marriage is personal. When I was living in Kenya, my father arranged for me to marry a man I had never met. His name was Osman Moussa. He was 27. When we were introduced, only six days before the marriage, I found that he was bald, dim and expected me to give him six sons.

Before the nikah ceremony, which would legally wed us, I begged my father to reconsider.