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Mediate Sensitive Conflicts: Child Marriage, the U.S.’s Hidden Human Rights Issue

Mediation is built to deal with the most sensitive conflicts, and child marriage may be one that calls for especially delicate negotiation. Amazingly, child marriage in the U.S. is no legal relic that is clinging on by a thread, it is technically legal in all 50 states. This is despite the U.S. State Department’s position on child marriage, that marriage before 18 is a human rights abuse. The U.S. nevertheless remains the “only country in the world that hasn’t ratified the U.N. Convention on the rights of the child.” (Source) Since Sherry Johnson began telling the tale of her horrific abuse, pregnancy and marriage at age 11, the issue has gained publicity. Legislators in some states have turned their attention to modifying or getting rid of child marriage laws.

Many legal contradictions exist in the U.S. that make child marriage a tough issue to tackle. Children can’t consent to sex until they are at least 16, yet in some states children can be married at any age before this. Though children can get married, it is extremely arduous for them to start the legal process to get divorced. Groups that move to help children trapped in child marriage can risk charges of kidnapping, so negotiating to release children from marriages they didn’t consent to is a delicate, difficult undertaking that often involves dealing with communities deeply interwoven by faith or cultural tradition. Mediation can provide a bridge between community members looking to uphold tradition and any interested observers concerned about the child’s welfare. Mediation considers practical matters, like financial responsibility for a minor, a child’s best economic and educational interests, as well as the child’s basic human rights. When abuse is involved, mediation can also incorporate psychological remedies in ways that litigation can’t, and as a strictly confidential process, it may be best suited to dealing with the sensitive needs of children.

In California, there is no minimum age for child marriage. A bill that has been proposed to change the laws would require interviews for child consent to marriage, but would not make it illegal for minors to marry. At Boileau Conflict Solutions, we are a group of caring and well-educated mediators and negotiators with financial, legal, and psychological backgrounds who strongly believe that we can solve conflicts concerning human rights with non-violent approaches and solutions. When negotiating human rights issues involving children, sensitivity to the child’s support networks, belief structure and psychological stability is key. Mediation works towards sustainable solutions that protects important relationships and repairs community conflict. Mediation is also completely confidential, protecting the privacy of any children involved. If you would like to speak to us confidentially about any human rights conflict involving a child, we are available 7 days a week and at urgent notice for a free consultation. We can be reached at our offices in Campbell, CA, Irvine, CA and Boulder, CO, and through Skype or Zoom if necessary. Please contact us to see how we can help.

Read more on this topic:
http://www.npr.org/2017/06/11/532457876/advocates-work-to-end-child-marriage-in-the-u-s
http://www.dailycal.org/2017/05/30/child-marriage-laws-ca-act-loopholes-allow-statutory-rape/
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/sunday/it-was-forced-on-me-child-marriage-in-the-us.html?_r=0

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