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Child marriage and the Warren Jeffs polygamist trial

The Texas trial of Warren Jeffs should shine a spotlight on the global problem of child marriages, and efforts to prevent them.

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Here’s one way to view the Texas trial of Warren Jeffs, the polygamist-sect leader accused of sexual assault and marrying two teenage girls: Even America is not immune to the global problem of child marriage and should use this case to support campaigns to end it.

Underage marriage has long been common in Mr. Jeffs’s secretive group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To date, seven FLDS men have been convicted on the same charges facing Jeffs.

Worldwide, though, more than 60 million girls end up as child brides, meaning they marry before the age of 18, which is classified as underage by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Most are forced into these awkward arrangements, usually by poor, rural parents who essentially sell off daughters for a dowry. The damage to the girl in marrying an older man, both physically and emotionally, remains largely hidden.

The practice – which amounts to rape – is deeply entrenched and not associated with any one religion, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).

While the prevalence of child marriage seems to be declining – a result of information campaigns, education for girls, and rising prosperity – the ICRW estimates that 25,000 girls will be married every day for the next 10 years – some as young as 8. In some countries, more than half are coerced into saying some form of “I do.” Many are betrothed in the cradle.

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