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  • The day of her wedding Heather dressed in a lilac gown with a sweetheart neckline.

  • Her blonde hair was styled into curls and held back by a sparkling tiara.

  • Her groom Aaron wore sneakers, dark slacks and a matching plaid tie.

  • The wedding took place under a wooden veranda in a park.

  • During the ceremony, Heather and Aaron held hands and recited vows, promising to love,

  • cherish, protect and comfort each other.

  • Afterwards, Heather's dad made a speech wishing the couple good luck.

  • It was the day after Heather's 15 birthday.

  • She was also 9 weeks pregnant.

  • Her new husband was 24 years old.

  • Heather had originally met Aaron when he and his parents came to work for the summer at

  • her grandparent's fly fishing store in their rural Idaho town.

  • She and Aaron spent hours hanging out and talking.

  • One night they drank beer and hung out in Aaron's camper van.

  • The next morning, Heather woke up disoriented without any memory of the night before.

  • She was upset when Aaron told her they had sex.

  • However, she liked him, so she continued to date him.

  • Several weeks later Heather got sick and learned that she was pregnant.

  • Per Idaho state law, it's a felony for an adult to have sex with a minor under the age

  • of 16.

  • The maximum punishment for this crime is life in prison.

  • When she found out her daughter was pregnant, Heather's mom Lynette, who's divorced

  • from her father and lives in Utah called the local police and filed a report for statutory

  • rape.

  • Also per Idaho state law, sex between a married couple is legal, no matter the age of the

  • spouses.

  • In the US, people must be 18 to marry.

  • However, most states allow minors to marry under certain circumstances.

  • The requirements vary from state to state.

  • Heather's father Keith, stepmother and paternal grandparents sat down for a discussion with

  • Aaron's family.

  • Keith felt that the Bible advised marraige and quickly nixed any talk of his daughter

  • having an abortion.

  • Both families hoped that marriage would keep Aaron out of jail.

  • In Idaho, at age 15 Heather would need permission from a parent to marry; also she'd have

  • to go before a judge.

  • Worried that a judge might not allow the match, Heather's family did some research.

  • While some states ask for both parents' permission, Missouri only required one signature

  • from a custodial guardian or parent.

  • Also a court clerk, rather than a judge could approve a marriage.

  • The families piled into a van and drove 17 hours to Kansas City, Missouri.

  • First thing, Monday morning Heather, Aaron and Keith went to the Jackson County Courthouse.

  • The court clerk took a copy of Aaron's and Heather's ids.

  • Keith signed his consent for them to marry.

  • By 10 am the couple was on their way back to the hotel to get dressed up.

  • Within a few hours, they were married.

  • A few times Heather had been asked if this was what she wanted-by family, by the clerk

  • and by the officiant who married her.

  • Although she said yes, the truth was she was scared.

  • She cared for Aaron and she didn't want him to get in trouble.

  • Even during the ceremony, Heather felt incredibly unsure, but as her family had gone through

  • a lot of trouble to arrange the marriage, she didn't feel as though she could back

  • out.

  • Furthermore, Heather was excited about becoming a mom and felt like she should try to make

  • things work.

  • After their wedding, Heather and Aaron began living in a camper van on her grandparent's

  • property.

  • Heather started her sophomore year of high school.

  • Aaron, a high school dropout, struggled to find work.

  • Within a few weeks Heather learned she had miscarried; in fact it happened right around

  • the time she got married.

  • Soon Aaron was arrested.

  • Lynette, angry over her ex-husband marrying off Heather behind her back, had pushed for

  • authorities to take action.

  • While Idaho law allowed Heather and Aaron to have sex as husband and wife, Aaron could

  • still be prosecuted for having sex with a minor prior to marriage.

  • Keith was also arrested on two counts, injury to a child and accessory to rape.

  • Just 6 weeks after their wedding, Heather reluctantly testified against Aaron at a pre-trial

  • hearing.

  • Although she claimed everything was ok, her life was falling apart.

  • With no baby, the main reason she had married was gone.

  • She and Aaron fought a lot; he had a dangerous temper.

  • Also, Heather had dropped out of school when Aaron was arrested.

  • While Aaron was out on bail, Heather continued to live with him.

  • She found a minimum wage waitress job at a local burger joint.

  • At home Aaron expected her to do everything, cleaning, laundry, cooking.

  • Heather felt like she was his personal slave.

  • As Aaron's case proceeded through the court, Heather was determined to stick it out, she

  • had made a commitment.

  • However Lynette hired a lawyer to annul the marriage.

  • Just four months after they had gotten married, Heather's marriage was annulled and Lynette

  • filed a restraining order on Heather's behalf against Aaron.

  • Ultimately, Aaron was sentenced to 15 years with an option for parole after three years.

  • He is required to undergo sex offender and substance abuse treatment.

  • Whenever he gets out, he'll be on the sex offender registry for at least 10 years, if

  • not more.

  • Keith was sentenced to four years for felony injury of a child, but because Heather had

  • somewhat agreed to the marriage his sentence was suspended.

  • Keith was instead ordered to spend 4 months in jail.

  • As the judge handed down the sentence he said to Keith 'Perhaps as you spend each of those

  • 120 days in jail, you will think about the 120 days your daughter was married to a rapist

  • because of you'.

  • Heather moved to a suburb of Salt Lake City to live with her mom.

  • She got a job and hopes to get her GED someday.

  • Reflecting on the past, she can hardly believe that she was ever married at age 15.

  • When Americans think of child brides, they generally think of some poor girl far away

  • in a developing country.

  • That's true.

  • According to the UN, in the developing world, about 1 in 9 girls are married by age 15 and

  • 1 in 3 girls are married by age 18.

  • However, child marriages happen in the US more often than you would think.

  • America is incredibly hypocritical when it comes to minors marrying.

  • The US department of State encourages and funds policies overseas to educate young women

  • and prevent them from marrying so young.

  • However, the laws to protect minors from child marriage in the US are patchy and vary widely

  • from state to state.

  • Currently only 4 states: Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and one territory,

  • the U.S. Virgin Islands have set the legal minimum age to wed at 18 with no exceptions

  • allowed.

  • Out of the 46 states that allow minors to marry, 20 states have no minimum age to marry

  • with a parental or judicial waiver.

  • Child marriage is most common in conservative religious communities and poor, rural areas.

  • But it can be found across all races, socio-economic strata and in secular, as well as religious

  • families of different faiths.

  • A National Marriage Survey in 2011 found minors involved in child marriages from Hindu, Buddhist,

  • Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, and other faiths.

  • Often teenage girls marry due to pressure from parents or their religious community,

  • especially if they have gotten pregnant.

  • One survey found that American girls in immigrant families are sometimes pressured to marry

  • a distant relative abroad as a way of bringing him to the United States.

  • The news program Frontline analyzed data collected by states and discovered that between 2000

  • and 2015, at least 207,459 minors in the US were wed.

  • It's likely the number of minors who were married during this period is far higher as

  • the data was incomplete.

  • Several states provided incomplete records or didn't provide records at all.

  • Of the minors marrying 87% were female.

  • 67% of those who married were 17 years old, another 29% were 16 and 5% were 15 and younger.

  • That meant 985 minors wed at age 14.

  • 6 children wed at age 12.

  • Some states only keep data with categories such as “14 and younger,” without specifying

  • exactly how much younger some brides and grooms were, so it's not possible to know the age

  • of the youngest children to wed in America between 2000 and 2015.

  • Other states don't track spousal ages at all.

  • Of the minors who married, 14% married other minors while 86% married adults.

  • While most of the minors married adults in their 20s, there were some big age gaps.

  • In one of the more egregious cases in 2010, a 17-year-old girl married a 65-year-old man

  • in Idaho.

  • Once again the available data isn't able to provide the full picture.

  • It doesn't include minors immigrating to the US that were wed in their home country.

  • Per a Senate report between 2007 and 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

  • approved more than 5,500 petitions by adults to bring minor spouses or fiancées to the

  • U.S. and nearly 3,000 approvals for minors trying to bring in older spouses or fiancés.

  • Girls were the minors in 95 of the cases.

  • Several petitions included people in their 40s requesting on behalf of spouses as young

  • as 14 or 15.

  • Also Frontline's report didn't include data about children wed in religious-only

  • ceremonies or taken overseas to be married, which are two common situations that happen

  • with child marriage in the US.

  • 15 year old Sara had big plans for her future.

  • She had just finished her freshman year of high school.

  • She wanted to join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and apply to the US

  • Air Force Academy, ultimately hoping to go to law school.

  • But those future plans were derailed when her mom found out that a boy from school was

  • interested in her daughter.

  • She called her ex husband, Sara's father, for his input on how to handle the situation.

  • Though conservative, Sara's mother was open to her daughter dating.

  • However, Sara's father, a member of a cult like Islamic offshoot religious group, was

  • not.

  • He insisted his daughter come to California and spend the summer with him.

  • Once in California Sara's father made it clear that the boy from school was forbidden

  • and lectured her about being chaste, even though she hadn't done anything.

  • Not long after that Sara's father took her to a religious conference where she was introduced

  • to a 28 year old man.

  • They were married that same evening.

  • Though the marriage was spiritual and not legal, under California law, 15-year-old Sara

  • could have been legally married then with parental consent and a court order.

  • After the wedding Sara's husband took her out of the US to his home country (which she

  • prefers not to identify).

  • Sara's mom had no idea all of this was happening and Sara wasn't allowed to communicate with

  • her mom for months.

  • After Sara became pregnant her husband decided that they should return to the US to have

  • the baby.

  • The couple settled in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • One day Sara was taken on a road trip to Reno, Nevada to get legally married.

  • Not completely understanding the legal ramifications of what she was doing, Sara agreed to marry.

  • In Nevada minors as young as 16 can be married with the consent of at least one parent, and

  • Sara's father had consented.

  • Feeling trapped, Sara worked hard to get her GED.

  • She wanted to continue her studies and her husband agreed, but continually threw roadblocks

  • in her way.

  • By age 19 Sara was pregnant with her second child.

  • After several years of careful planning, hard work and secretly saving money, Sara was finally

  • able to file divorce papers while her husband was out of the US on a summer visit to his

  • home country with their children.

  • She was 26 and had been married 10 years.

  • Her husband fought back and kept their kids overseas.

  • Thankfully, Sara's in-laws arranged for her to get her children back.

  • But Sara's husband began a long, drawn out legal battle.

  • It was another 3 years before Sara's divorce was finalized.

  • Today Sara works with nonprofits to change the laws regarding child marriage.

  • So much of this story, for me, is how much of a struggle life was after divorcing him.”

  • she says.

  • What people don't always think about is the major setbacks and obstacles that child

  • marriage victims face in rebuilding their lives.”

  • Between 70-80% of child marriages end in divorce.

  • Married minors are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to

  • suffer domestic violence than are married adults.

  • Girls who marry before 19 are 50% more likely than their unmarried peers to drop out of

  • high school and four times less likely to graduate from college.

  • They are much more likely to suffer from mental-health problems too.

  • If a minor tries to leave their marriage a wide variety of problems await them, including

  • gray areas with the law.

  • While they have entered into a legal contract, in most cases, they aren't considered legal

  • adults.

  • This means even if they have the resources, they cannot file for divorce or sign rental

  • leases.

  • If they have been abused, they cannot seek protection in domestic violence shelters which

  • are generally for adults.

  • In some states, if minors leave home they are considered to be a runaway and authorities

  • can return them to the care of their spouse or family.

  • Even when married minors become of age and want to leave the marriage, they often have

  • circumstances or children which makes it hard to go.

  • When Betsy was 17 she was forced to wed a man she had known for 45 minutes in an arranged

  • marriage in her Orthodox Jewish community in New York.

  • At age 27, Betsy was finally able to escape with her 3 young children.

  • However, she was ill prepared for the outside world.

  • She was a single mother with a high school equivalency certificate, no work experience

  • and no money for child care.

  • The temporary and part-time jobs she managed to find couldn't cover her bills.

  • Betsy received section 8, Medicaid and food stamps.

  • Sometimes she went without so her children could eat.

  • Only when her youngest child reached school age was Betsy finally able to get full-time

  • employment and gain some stability.

  • We've talked about the problems that teenage girls face when marrying young, do young men

  • experience similar issues?

  • Yes, although there's even less data available regarding them.

  • Early marriage often brings early fatherhood and many young grooms are forced to drop out

  • of school and take menial jobs to support their new families which often creates or

  • perpetuates a cycle of poverty.

  • Considering the range of problems that arise from child marriages, you'd think the US