When team members from AHA Foundation spoke to Sasha K. Taylor, we were immediately moved by the strength of her passion, dedication, bravery, and commitment in the fight against child marriage in the U.S. A survivor of child marriage herself, she emerged out of this horrific experience resolute in her vision to protect children from what she endured. She is a true warrior for the rights of women and girls. Last month, we shared the first part of her story, and today we are honored to share the final part of her story with you, where Sasha calls for urgent action to end child marriage in the U.S. and explains how legislators and voters can accomplish this goal.
I understand that I need to explain to legislators and voters why we need to end child marriage—you have not experienced such an event in your own lives and can’t imagine that this is even a problem right here, right now in the U.S. I understand that the change you have in mind is not always going to be the same kind we ideally want. But time is of the essence. As I write this, as you read this, there are kids all over our nation who are facing dangerous situations. We have to help them fast.
Then, after we take them out of harm’s way, we can take the next steps, the steps needed to end this abuse in the long term. If we do not act immediately, kids will keep getting exploited while we try to cut through all the red tape.
It’s time that lawmakers who are too lax about protecting minors get called out by name. At the same time, citizens should inform themselves of the rights their children have (or don’t have in the case of child marriage) in their own states. Lawmakers forget that the minors they are failing are future voters and taxpayers (who will pay their salaries).
I am here to remind the public, on all sides of the aisle, that their minors and the rights of their minors matter, and that lawmakers need to be held accountable for not protecting them—especially when it comes to not changing laws on child marriage issues, since child marriage negatively impacts the education and job prospects of those exact same future voters and taxpayers. The protection of children from nefarious actors, such as pedophiles, traffickers, and those exploiting our immigration loopholes should be a bipartisan issue.
The arrival of the Afghan refugee population into the United States after the fall of Afghanistan should be a wake-up call on multiple fronts—social, economic, emotional, and national security.
This wake-up call should inspire us to create an audit of what is and is not working in our country anymore. And I can tell you right now that archaic child marriage laws are no longer working in the U.S. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with Teri Dobbins Baxter, the Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, who in February 2019 wrote in the Nevada Law Journal that child marriage is a constitutional violation.
The U.S. government, non-profit organizations and volunteers are working hard to provide social services like food, housing, schools, clothing, and other everyday needs to the incoming Afghan refugee population—and we haven’t even begun to start helping them with jobs yet. Before we do that we need to ensure that they are treated for numerous Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) issues arising from the trauma of what they have experienced.
I am outraged that the United States has not updated its laws because refugee minor girls escaping to the U.S. stand to be exploited here too, leaving them in the same outcome they escaped from in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
The children who have arrived here are the ones we need to pay attention to the most. They are the ones I’m so afraid will be forgotten because they will be navigating a new social services landscape and bureaucracy. For that reason, we need to come together as a united American community to ensure these children are not married off as children to lessen the parents’ burden, because unfortunately that’s all some parents know.
There is so much de-conditioning that needs to happen. The unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S. are the most at risk. They may be coerced, manipulated, or abused into a forced marriage. If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, that is it.
I am outraged that the United States has not updated its laws because refugee minor girls escaping to the U.S stand to be exploited here too, leaving them in the same outcome they escaped from in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee along with the committee’s chair, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are aware that the H-1B and F-1 student visa program needs reform. Child marriage laws, H1-B and F-1 visas, along with immigration loopholes and the existing proxy marriage laws, are all intersectional matters. Diasporic families living in the U.S. are sought out to marry into when visas are close to expiring. Additionally, families exploit their daughters by taking them abroad to be forcefully married and used as visa sponsors, using the proxy marriage rule. Lawmakers who are not changing child marriage laws have created an exploitation visa mill and children are the fodder.
Lawmakers need to understand that these U.S. laws are old and archaic and have been causing the majority of the issues they are dealing with right now. Add to this that there is no oversight of the companies that are sponsoring and exploiting the H1-B visa system, some of whom are likely fake and engaged in the trafficking of people into the U.S.
Then add to that that no sponsor age is listed on the U.S. visa, that proxy marriages are accepted, that COVID-19 online marriages are occurring, that 44 states allow child marriage, and that there are U.S. citizens who willfully sell their citizenships to traffickers for money—and you might get an idea of the scale of the problem. There are so many stories and scenarios that have been happening for years and years that one doesn’t know where one begins and where one ends.
But the fixes that are needed are simple and should be easy to pass in a bipartisan manner. However, all of the blockages are based on partisan politics, and the need to wrap all immigration issues together and create this political fear that any change made to immigration policy writ large would portray a Congressman as being anti-immigrant in our increasingly propagandist world. Political perception is not only placing children at risk—it is also a clear and known national security threat.
Lawmakers and Congress need to realize that an administrative matter for them is a change in a child’s life in America.
The delays in changing immigration policies are the fault solely of legislators playing partisan politics because they are too busy trying to get reelected, so they ignore the immigration issue because they are just trying to please their voters accordingly. I’m not going to give solutions. They already know what the solutions are. Multiple government agencies and NGOs have been working with them to provide solutions.
But for now, it’s a simple administrative fix on the visa form: the words “must be 18 years of age” need to be added to the U.S. visa sponsorship form. Lawmakers and Congress need to realize that an administrative matter for them is a change in a child’s life in America.
I’m pragmatic about the issue. As long as there is conflict on this planet, there will be child exploitation and child marriage because the real victims of any conflict have always been and always will be women and children. Therefore, I do not see this issue going away, unfortunately.
I also despise that it takes a massive critical incident like the fall of Afghanistan for some to wake up and realize that child marriage happens. To me, there was nothing surprising about it. It was always happening in that region. Sadly, to the people in that region, that is a normal thing. I know this sounds so horrible, but when a society is used to abusing, beating, raping, punishing, and brutalizing one specific gender—that becomes an accepted norm.
And girls in the U.S. are also getting married off by their own parents when they cannot afford to support them. I see no difference between what is happening to the girls abroad and what is happening to the girls in the U.S. At the end of the day, they’re all being given away by their families.
If nothing else, government, including in the U.S., should realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot by allowing girls to be married off as children. Studies show that marrying off girls negatively impacts the economy, as it takes them out of the education and employment systems and thus prevents them from contributing to the GDP of a country. Not only is ending child marriage morally imperative, then, it is also the smart thing to do for societies that want to be modern and prosperous.
I will continue to speak out and campaign, to use my voice to end the horror of child marriage in the U.S.
We must try to update policy and fight through the deeply held personal biases that lawmakers hold, so girls can have their right to an education and a free life.
I will continue to speak out and campaign, to use my voice to end the horror of child marriage in the U.S. In an exciting new project, I am partnering with a Maryland-based business that is leaning in to help end child marriage. My logo will be on the company’s product and proceeds from purchases with my logo will go to non-profits helping to end child marriage.
My logo (left) honors my grandmother, who was married in a refugee camp when she was 8 years old [see part 1 of Sasha’s story]. It was hand-painted by my high school friend, Alaska-based female artist Heidi Franke. It matches the graphic on my grandmother’s shirt in the photo below, right. I want the logo to be a beacon for the fight to end child marriage in the U.S. and across the globe.
My goal is to partner with additional U.S.-based companies who want to help end child marriage so we can continue helping the non-profits who are fighting to end this abuse and who provide victim services, training, and social services.
These non-profits are at the forefront with lawmakers to help enact updated policies and laws across the United States to protect minors, so it is essential we do all we can to help them. I strongly believe consumers have the ability to affect policy, which can drive action, so my campaign will, I hope, raise awareness and create a lasting impact.
Ultimately, if you asked me what my main motivation is for doing all this, it is this: girls have a right to thrive in the life they want for themselves. Not what someone else forcefully imprints on them.
Always call the emergency number of a women’s shelter or an agency helping girls escape forced marriages. Keep such numbers saved in your phone.
People always eventually find the person who is right for them, when the time is right for them. These things should never be forced. It always ends in chaos.
Always speak up for yourself because nobody else will.
You have the right to an education.
You have the right to say, “No.”
You are brave.
I love you.
Number of Women and Girls At Risk: 25,000
Status: Existing Legislation Needs Strengthening
Improve by adding: Prosecuting parents/guardian, felony offense