Press Release - Santa Clara County Becomes First County in California to Call for Ending Child Marriage
Contact: Eric C Stroker, Communications Manager
669-309-3223 | [email protected]
Santa Clara County Becomes First County in California to Call for Ending Child Marriage
SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CA - At the January 23, 2024 meeting, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution calling for the End of Child Marriage, ‘18 No Exceptions’. Supervisor Otto Lee brought the resolution forward with support from local advocates, survivors, and Global Hope 365, a California organization working to end child marriage internationally. The resolution calls on the California State Legislature to introduce and pass legislation to “End Child Marriage Under 18, No Exceptions.” Currently only ten states have passed laws ending child marriages for minors, no exceptions.
“I want to thank the coalition of partners that helped support this resolution and to my colleagues for their support. We hope that the State Legislature adopts legislation that ends the practice of child marriages OR establishes a minimum age for marriage. It’s encouraging that other counties are looking to adopt similar resolutions,” proclaimed Supervisor Lee. “Santa Clara County continues to lead on key initiatives and actions to lift up our children, and I’m hopeful that joint advocacy statewide will compel long overdue action to protect young girls.”
Santa Clara County is the first county in California to pass a resolution, though it is being considered in additional jurisdictions. This issue has grown in support in the Golden State, as California is one of 27 States that do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry. Global Hope 365 reports that 12 million girls are married in childhood globally per year, and that in the United States 60,000 of the married minors, a sex crime of statutory rape, should have been considered because of the spousal age difference between young girls and adult men. As of today, California remains one of only seven states that has no minimum age for marriage, despite having a minimum age requirement of 18 for divorce.
Several survivors and advocates spoke or submitted written comments about the importance of this resolution, including Sara Tasneem a child marriage survivor and Rima Nashashibi, Founder and President of Global Hope 365.
Sara Tasneem shared her story: “This resolution is so important to highlight that the issue of child marriage is happening here in California. The numbers that are being reported at the state level are a vast undercount and many counties are not reporting their minor marriages to the authorities as they should be. I am a survivor of forced child marriage – at fifteen I was forced to marry a stranger 13 years older than me in a spiritual marriage. Six months later I was legally married and was six months pregnant which was clearly evidence of a rape. Instead of sending my rapist to jail, the marriage certificate allowed him to continue to abuse me under protection of the law and with no possibility of escape. If I had tried to access lifesaving services, I would not have been able to access them as a minor. In any other context this would have been considered kidnapping and trafficking but because my marriage was legal in California it was protected. My case is not the exception – it highlights the majority of minors who marry, they are overwhelmingly girls marrying adult men.”
"We at Global Hope 365 are grateful to Supervisor Lee for introducing our resolution at the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. Our goal is to end harmful practices toward women and girls such as child marriage, human trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence We are thankful to the Supervisors and appreciate the leadership position they took to end this type of child abuse. A marriage of a minor should not be a reason or vehicle to get a perpetrator of statutory rape out of jail. We had 23,588 minors that were married in CA between 2000 and 2018. Our own Department of State indicated in a 2016 document that child marriage is human rights abuse in addition to the U.S. signing on to implement the United Nations SDGs by 2030 including 5.3 which includes ending child marriage. We still have 40 states to go!" expressed by Rima Nashashibi, Founder & President of Global Hope 365
Nancy Bremeau, a local women’s advocate, expressed: “This resolution brings attention to an important issue that continues to ruin the lives of children, who, once married are highly likely to drop out of school, experience early pregnancies, earn low wages, live in poverty and three times more likely to experience intimate partner violence. The ‘romantic’ notion of an underage Romeo & Juliette is often used to defend child marriage, when in fact any 17- or 17.5- year-old can wait the additional 6 months to marry, in the same way a 15.5 year old can wait to get their driver's license.”
Nancy continued, “While some individuals point out that there are cultural and religious aspects to allowing child marriage, child abuse, statutory rape and human trafficking risks far outweigh any "benefits", and a religious or cultural ceremony is not the same as a state-sanctioned legal marriage contract, especially when a divorce is not allowed before the age of 18, or the direct access to services, retaining an attorney and going through family court proceedings. While a pregnancy might seem like a good enough reason to allow a child to marry, the reality is that a marriage under duress is a marriage doomed for trouble, and that 70-80% of all child marriages end in divorce eventually - but it may be many years and several kids down the road before the girl/now a woman can extricate herself.”
Additionally, the World Health Organization highlights that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15-19-year-old girls globally. Education, a critical pathway to empowerment and economic stability, is often cut short. UNESCO estimates that if all girls completed secondary education, child marriage would decrease by 64%. In 2022, Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney and Melinda French Gates announced a collaboration between their foundations to combat the problem.
According to the survivor-led organization, Unchained-at-last, ‘children who have not yet reached the age of majority have limited legal rights and therefore can easily be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage’. These children face overwhelming legal and practical barriers if they try to leave home to escape a forced marriage, get help from an advocate, enter a domestic violence shelter, or retain an attorney.
This resolution will not stop any marriages in Santa Clara County, but it begins an effort to call on the California Legislature to act.
Supervisor Otto Lee serves District 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors which represents Sunnyvale, Milpitas, and the northern neighborhoods of San José including Alviso and Berryessa. Supervisor Lee also serves as the Vice President of the Board of Supervisors. He is an intellectual property attorney, Retired U.S. Navy Commander, former Sunnyvale Mayor & Councilmember, and father. Supervisor Lee lives in Sunnyvale with his wife, three daughters, and their family rabbit. He was elected to represent District 3 in November 2020. More information about him and the District 3 Office is available online at SupervisorLee.org or contact us anytime at [email protected].