Protesters from Unchained at Last speak in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston to end child marriage in Massachusetts, May 2017.  (c) 2017 Susan Landmann/Unchained at Last

Today, I’ll join the Women’s March in Boston to demand an end to child marriage in Massachusetts. 

My two grandmothers were both child brides in Trinidad and Tobago. Their lives illustrate how child marriage robs children – especially girls – of their childhood and rights.

My grandmothers (“Nanny” and “Mama”) were forced by their families around age 13 to marry adult men they had never met. Both dropped out of school, had early pregnancies, gave birth to 7 and 8 children respectively, and experienced the loss of a child shortly after birth. They assumed heavy household duties. No one asked whether this was what they wanted. Returning to their families was not an option.

Mama, now age 94, still has flashbacks of her husband’s abuse, leaving her fearful her life is in danger, even though my grandfather passed away long ago.

Millions of women and girls around the world – and hundreds of thousands in the US – share my grandmothers’ experience. In Massachusetts, more than 1,200 children married between 2000 and 2016, primarily girls marrying adult men.

Child marriage is deeply harmful. It deprives girls of education, exposes them to serious health risks, deepens poverty, and puts these girls at greater risk of domestic violence.

One of the reasons child marriage is still an issue in the US is that many states allow it.

In 48 US states, child marriage is permitted legally under certain circumstances. Massachusetts is one of those states, with a minimum marriage age of 18, but allowing children to wed with parental “consent” and judicial approval. There is no statutory minimum age for those exceptions.

This has to change. New Jersey and Delaware recently paved the way by fully banning child marriages, no exceptions. Massachusetts should be next.

As I march today to end child marriage, my grandmothers will be with me in spirit, every step of the way.