Imagine that you’re a kid going to school, playing with your friends, and dreaming of what the future holds for you. Then one day, you learn from your parents that it’s all over. You can’t be free to run around and be outside or play games or even continue learning. Your old life is going to end soon. You’re going to get married.
Unfortunately, there is nothing imaginary about this scenario for many children around the world. Child marriage is defined by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as “a marriage of a girl or boy before the age of 18 and refers to both formal marriages and informal unions in which children under the age of 18 live with a partner as if married.”
The first is that this phenomenon only affects girls. Just this year, UNICEF conducted the first-ever survey on child grooms, finding that while not as common as child marriage for women, over 115 million boys and men around the world today were married as children. The second is held by many people in Europe and North America who believe that child marriage could never take place in their countries, only in developing countries in Latin America, Africa, or Asia.
In fact, 17 states in the United States have no minimum age limit for marriage! Even in the states that do, the limit can be shockingly low (14 years old in Alaska and North Carolina).
Coby Persin had already highlighted the problem of underage girls being married in a 2016 video that featured a 65-year-old man marrying a 12-year-old girl walking around in Times Square in the middle of New York City. This video showed dozens of outraged people directly confronting the man and accusing him of taking the girl’s childhood away. It went massively viral with over 22 million views.
But when Persin came back in 2018 to reverse the scenario and show a 12-year-old boy marrying a 50-year-old woman, the reactions from the public, especially from men, were completely different. For the experiment, Persin pretended to be the wedding photographer for the couple.
While the older woman, dressed in a traditional white wedding dress, acted happy and proud of the relationship, her “child groom” in a tuxedo and bow tie looked sullen and unresponsive, refusing to smile or speak to show how much he didn’t want to be married.
As the couple walked around Times Square taking pictures, they definitely got some strange looks from passerby who seemed unsure of what was happening. But as opposed to the video with the older man and younger girl, many people simply turned away or walked on by.
While Persin was taking photos, one random man even photo-bombed, putting his arm around the bride. “Oh, you want to be in this picture?” the bride asked? After the picture, the young man congratulated them and shook the bride’s hand, despite it being obvious that the child groom was incredibly unhappy.
Even worse, two guys approached the couple and told the young groom how lucky he was! They called the situation “dope.” Persin caught up with them and confronted them about their reaction. “Why were you guys so happy to see that child marriage going on? The kid is losing his whole childhood?” Their response was disbelief. “Nah, that’s cool!”
Of course, oblivious to the double standard, when Persin asked them if they would want their younger sister to get married to an older man, they immediately said they wouldn’t stand for it.
The only people to question the marriage at all were other women who came up to ask the boy’s age. However, several of them backed down once the bride claimed that the marriage was legal and she had his parents’ permission. All in all, only one woman really took a stand against this terrible scenario, calling it “disgusting on so many levels.”
Unfortunately, she was a lone voice in a crowd that otherwise just looked the other way, assuming that the boy was fine despite the fact that he was clearly unhappy.