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Sherry Johnson, Florida-based anti-child marriage campaigner who was forced to marry aged 11 in 1971.

‘It put an end to my childhood’: the hidden scandal of US child marriage

The Guardian

In half of US states, there is no legal minimum age for marriage; a 40-year-old man can, in theory, marry a five-year-old girl. But Florida may soon ban the practice for under-18s. We meet the former child brides campaigning for change

Sherry Johnson, Florida-based anti-child marriage campaigner who was forced to marry aged 11 in 1971.
Sherry Johnson, Florida-based anti-child marriage campaigner who was forced to marry aged 11 in 1971. Photograph: Katharina Bracher

Sherry Johnson was 11 when her mother told her she was going to get married. The bridegroom was nine years older and a deacon in the strict apostolic church that her family attended. He was also the man who had raped her and made her pregnant. “They forced me to marry him to cover up the scandal,” Johnson says. “Instead of putting the handcuffs on him and sending him to prison, they put the handcuffs on me and imprisoned me in a marriage.”

Johnson is now 58, but child marriage is not a thing of the past in the US: almost 250,000 children were married there between 2000 and 2010, some of them as young as 10. “Almost all were girls married to adult men,” says Fraidy Reiss, the director of campaigning organisation Unchained at Last.

In most US states, the minimum age for marriage is 18. However, in every state exceptions to this rule are possible, the most common being when parents approve and a judge gives their consent. In 25 states, there is no minimum marriage age when such an exception is made. But now Johnson’s home state, Florida, is poised to pass a law that sets the minimum marriage age at 18 with very few exceptions – thanks largely to her campaigning.

In 2013, Johnson was working at a barbecue stand in Tallahassee when she told her story to a senator who was one of her regular customers. “She listened to me and decided to do something,” Johnson recalls. “She presented a bill to restrict child marriage in 2014, but it failed. That was because nobody understood the problem at the time.

“People thought: this can’t happen in Florida. The minimum marriage age is 18; what’s the problem? But they didn’t know about the loopholes. Between 2001 and 2015, 16,000 children were married in Florida alone. A 40-year-old man can legally marry a five-year-old girl here.”

Sherry Johnson’s marriage certificate.
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Sherry Johnson’s marriage certificate. Photograph: Katharina Bracher

Johnson, whose own child-marriage took place in 1971, didn’t give up. She contacted numerous Floridian politicians, told them her story and explained the problem. “It was part of my healing process to tell my story,” she says. Actually, she adds, “I don’t like to use the word story because it ain’t a story. It’s the truth – I lived it.”

Apart from Florida, there are five states in the process of passing laws to end child marriage. It has been a tough battle, says Reiss, whose organisation has been campaigning for laws to be changed all over the country for three years.

“When I began, I thought it would be easy. I thought we would just explain the problem and legislators would jump up and change the law immediately. After all, the US state department considers child marriage a human rights abuse. But everywhere there are politicians who think it’s a bad idea to change the law. You wouldn’t believe how many legislators have told me that if a girl gets pregnant, she’s got to get married. One female Democrat politician asked me: ‘Won’t you increase abortion rates if you end child marriage?’ That left me speechless.”

Last year, 17-year-old Girl Scout Cassandra Levesque campaigned to change the New Hampshire law that allows girls as young as 13 to get married if their parents approve. “My local representative introduced a bill that raised the minimum age to 18. But a couple of male representatives persuaded the others to kill the bill and to prevent it from being discussed again for some years,” she says. “One of them said that a 17-year-old Girl Scout couldn’t have a say in these matters.”

“So they think she’s old enough for marriage, but not old enough to talk about it, says Reiss. “I think that reasoning is terrifying.”

She goes on to outline the harmful effects of child marriage. “Girls who get married before 18 have a significantly higher risk of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and strokes and a higher risk of psychiatric disorders. They are 50% more likely to drop out of high school and run a higher risk of living in poverty. They are also three times more likely to become victims of domestic violence. Really, child marriage helps no one. The only people who benefit are paedophiles.”

Reiss, who was born in an ultra-orthodox Jewish community, and was herself coerced into marrying when she was 19, says it is “extremely ironic” that laws make exceptions when parents consent to a child marriage or when an underage girl is pregnant. “Because, in many cases, the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse and the parents are forcing the girl to marry to prevent a scandal. So the law doesn’t protect the child at all. When an adult man has sex with an underage girl, this is considered statutory rape in many states. But when the perpetrator marries his victim, he can legally go on abusing her.”

Fraidy Reiss, director of campaigning organisation Unchained At Last.
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Fraidy Reiss, director of campaigning organisation Unchained At Last. Photograph: Susan Landmann

Many child brides come from religious backgrounds and less privileged groups – but not all. Donna Pollard, 34, grew up in a white, middle-class, non-religious family in a town called London in Kentucky, and yet she was married when she was 16. The man was nearly 15 years older. “I met him when I was 14 and going through a difficult time. My father had recently deceased,” she recounts. “He was my mental health counsellor and he acted like I could trust him. He convinced me that we were in love and he said: ‘If we get married when you turn 16, you will have all this freedom and your mum won’t be able to control you any more.’ So I thought I was taking charge of my life by agreeing to this.”

Her mother had no problems with her daughter getting married at 16 and readily gave her permission. “She was glad to get rid of me.”

Pollard remembers feeling very uncomfortable during the marriage ceremony. “The clerk didn’t even look up at me from her computer. She only asked: ‘Which one’s the minor?’ She didn’t assess if I was safe or needed something. He was 30 years old at the time, but nobody questioned the fact that he was so much older. That void of emotion hit me like a freight train. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t feel empowered to speak up and say: ‘I don’t know that I really want to go through with this.’ Nor did I trust my own judgment. I was a troubled teenager.”

Once married, she left school and started working at a grocery store for a minimum wage, soon becoming the breadwinner because her husband stopped working. “He became physically abusive. He was controlling everything I did. In many ways, child marriage and human trafficking are interchangeable terms.”

Pollard left her husband when she was 19 after he tried to choke her in the presence of their baby daughter. “I realised she would grow up normalising violence if I didn’t leave. That’s what gave me the courage.” Looking back, she says that marrying young disrupted her personal development. “I was very good at school. I even received a substantial scholarship for writing achievement. I could have studied creative writing with a grant.”

Johnson says that “marriage put a definite end to my childhood. I was expelled from school and by the age of 17 I had six children. There was no way I could escape. You are not allowed to sign legal documents when you are under 18, so I couldn’t file for a divorce. For seven years, I was stuck with the man who damaged me and continued to do so.

“Child marriage delayed my life. I was never able to attain an education. I am still struggling, trying to survive. Working three jobs as a healthcare provider to make ends meet. And then there’s the pain, the trauma that you have to deal with.”

“We see the number of child marriages going down now, but it’s not going fast enough,” says Reiss. “It’s so difficult to help child brides escape. Our organisation risks being charged with kidnapping because they are under 18. This has already happened to us once. Also, there are very few shelters in the US that accept girls younger than 18. So when girls call us, we have to tell them the help we can provide is very limited. Most of the children who reach out to us for help have tried to kill themselves because they would rather be dead than forced into a marriage. That keeps me awake at night. Something has to change.”

On 31 January, Johnson sat in the public gallery while the Florida senate unanimously passed the bill that will end child marriage in the state (although the bill was subsequently amended to allow pregnant 16- and 17-year-old girls to marry). Several senators talked about her story and thanked her for pushing for the bill. Afterwards, she said that the senate vote helped to heal the pain. “I smile from within to know that children will not have to face what I have been through.”

For more information or counselling on any of the issues raised in this article go to unchainedatlast.org

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Sir Ronald Sanders

Antigua and Barbuda first Caribbean country to ratify Convention against racism and intolerance

WASHINGTON, Jun 1, CMC – Antigua and Barbuda Friday become the first Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country and to ratify the Inter-American Convention against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Forms of Intolerance.

The Instrument of Ratification, signed by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, was presented to the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro at a ceremony by the island’s OAS Ambassador, Sir Ronald Sanders.

Sir Ronald Sanders

Sir Ronald said “the Gaston Browne administration is in the forefront of efforts to end discrimination based on race, racial discrimination and intolerance,” recalling Browne’s apology last month to the Rastafarian community.

He said that “it is a matter of pride for Antigua and Barbuda that, small nation though we are, we have done ground-breaking work to advance a legally binding definition of racism, aggravated discrimination, and intolerance”.

“The Convention offers protection to all human beings from racism, racial discrimination, and related forms of intolerance in any sphere of public or private life.”

The diplomat expressed appreciation to Joy-Dee Davis Lake of the Antigua and Barbuda delegation to the OAS who, he said, “did outstanding work in navigating the Convention through its many difficult stages before it was signed”.

Almagro noted Antigua and Barbuda’s pioneering role and the importance of the Convention in specifying for the signatory countries the democratic meaning of the principles of equality under the law and non-discrimination.

Sir Ronald praised the 12 nations that have signed the Convention and expressed regret that others, including powerful OAS member states, have not.

He urged all countries of the OAS “to join the convention and thereby enhance the rights of all people, particularly minorities and races that have suffered discrimination and oppression”.

The 12 countries that have signed the Convention are: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

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Sir Ronald Sanders

Antigua to apologize before the OAS on discrimination against Rastafarian community

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2018, CMC – The Government of Antigua and Barbuda says it will formally apologize before the Organization of American States (OAS) on Monday on discrimination against the Rastafarian community,  in an effort to improve relations with the religious group.

Sir Ronald Sanders
Sir Ronald Sanders

Ambassador to the United States and the OAS, Sir Ronald Sanders, will address the Permanent Council of the OAS on Monday morning to advise that the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has apologized to the Rastafarian community for decades of discrimination against them,” said an Antigua and Barbuda Government statement on Saturday.

“He will also inform the Council of other measures that the government has taken or intends to take to enhance the rights of Rastafarians who are a minority group in Antigua and Barbuda,” it added.

The statement said Sanders’ report is in keeping with Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS, which requires the elimination of all forms of discrimination and intolerance, as well as respect for cultural and religious diversity in the Americas, including the Caribbean.

“Implementation of the Charter requirement to eliminate discrimination and intolerance contributes to strengthening democracy and citizen participation in all the 34 active member states of the OAS, and the Antigua and Barbuda government is proud to show its deep commitment to the rights of all citizens”, Sanders said.

He said Browne “readily agreed to his request to be joined on Monday by Ambassador Franklyn Francis, a leading member of the Rastafari community, to also address the OAS Permanent Council on the actions of the Antigua and Barbuda government.

“When Ambassador Francis – King Frank I – speaks at the OAS Council meeting, it will be an historic first for the Rastafarian community”, Sir Ronald said, adding: “To my knowledge, no other Rastafarian has spoken to an international inter-governmental organization before.

“We are making history,” Sir Ronald said.

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AP VATICAN POPE CHRISTMAS I VAT

Pope likens Mary and Joseph to modern-day migrants

The late evening service was the pope’s first public Christmas appearance. Associated Press

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Pope Francis on Sunday compared the journey of Mary and Joseph to those of millions of modern-day migrants forced to leave their homeland for survival or a better life, expressing hope during his Christmas vigil Mass that that no one will feel that “there is no room for them on this Earth.”

Celebrating the late evening Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Francis said Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem brought them to a land “where there was no place for them,” adding, “So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. … We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away, but driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.”

Invoking the New Testament tyrant whose vow to kill Jesus prompted Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt, Francis said some modern-day migrants are “surviving the Herods of today, who, to impose their power and increase their wealth, see no problem in shedding innocent blood.”

But Christmas, he said, is a time “for turning the power of fear into the power of charity.”

► Saturday: Are Christmas trees religious? Well, yes … and no.
► Friday: Lithuania sends Pope Francis ‘world’s smallest’ nativity scene for Christmas
► Thursday: Prayer may help relieve stress, but fewer Americans make time for it

The late evening service was the pope’s first public Christmas appearance.

His Christmas Day message “urbi et orbi” — Latin for “to the city and to the world” — is to be delivered Monday from the central loggia of the basilica overlooking St. Peter’s Square. The message trad

This week, Francis sent out a series of simple messages on Twitter suggesting that Catholics rethink the annual celebration. The messages included one Friday proclaiming: “Let us free Christmas from the worldliness that has taken it hostage! The true spirit of Christmas is the beauty of being loved by God.”

On Sunday, he tweeted: “Contemplating the Baby Jesus, with His humble and infinite love, let us say to Him, very simply: ‘Thank you for doing all this for me!’ “

Francis on Thursday used an annual Christmas greeting to denounce the “cancer” of Vatican cliques, ambition and vanity, telling cardinals, bishops and priests who work for him, “Reforming Rome is like cleaning the Egyptian sphinxes with a toothbrush. You need patience, dedication and delicacy.”

Francis has made a tradition of inviting Vatican bureaucrats each Christmas for a Jesuit-style examination of conscience. His harshest critique came in 2014 when he listed the 15 “ailments” suffered by some in the group, including the “terrorism of gossip,” “spiritual Alzheimer’s” and of living “hypocritical” double lives.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Greg Toppo on Twitter: @gtoppo

itionally notes world events and trouble spots while aiming to strike a hopeful note as the year winds down, The Associated Press reported.

 

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kate-middleton-royal-palace

Katie Middawltons Closet Affair Might Break Up The Palace Because of Net Neutrality

Katie Middawltons Hidden Affair With Net NeutralityWhen you go online you have certain expectations. You expect to be connected to whatever website you want. You expect that your cable or phone company isn’t messing with the data and is connecting you to all websites, applications and content you choose. You expect to be in control of your internet experience.

When you use the internet you expect Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked.

In 2015, millions of activists pressured the Federal Communications Commission to adopt historic Net Neutrality rules that keep the internet free and open — allowing people to share and access information of their choosing without interference. Kate Middawlton Gets Unplugged & Katie Middawltons Hidden Affair Might Leave the Royel Family Ablaze. Net Neutrality.

But right now the internet is in peril. On Dec. 14, 2017, the FCC’s Republican majority approved Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to gut the Net Neutrality protections.

A former Verizon lawyer and a Trump appointee, Pai ignored the widespread outcry against his plan from millions of people, lawmakers, companies andco public-interest groups.

We can’t let Pai have the last word on this — which is why we’re calling on Congress to use a “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the FCC’s vote to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules.

Urge lawmakers to reverse the FCC vote today.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. Net Neutrality means an internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that ISPs should provide us with open networks — and shouldn’t block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company shouldn’t decide who you call and what you say on that call, your ISP shouldn’t interfere with the content you view or post online. Newly Released Info Might Bring Down an Empire. See What She Hid So Well For Years.

The internet without Net Neutrality isn’t really the internet.

What will happen to the internet now?

Without the Net Neutrality rules, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to call all the shots and decide which websites, content and applications succeed.

These companies can now slow down their competitors’ content or block political opinions they disagree with. They can charge extra fees to the few content companies that can afford to pay for preferential treatment — relegating everyone else to a slower tier of service.

The consequences will be particularly devastating for marginalized communities media outlets have misrepresented or failed to serve. People of color, the LGBTQ community, indigenous peoples and religious minorities in the United States rely on the open internet to organize, access economic and educational opportunities, and fight back against systemic discrimination.

Without Net Neutrality, how will activists be able to fight oppression? What will happen to social movements like the Movement for Black Lives? How will the next disruptive technology, business or company emerge if internet service providers let only incumbents succeed?

Tell me about the Title II rules we just lost. Why is Title II so important?

After a decade-long battle over the future of the internet, in 2015 the FCC adopted strong Net Neutrality rules based on Title II of the Communications Act, giving internet users the strongest protections possible.

Courts rejected two earlier FCC attempts to craft Net Neutrality rules and told the agency that if it wanted to adopt such protections it needed to use the proper legal foundation: Title II. In February 2015, the FCC did just that when it reclassified broadband providers as common carriers under Title II.

Title II gave the FCC the authority it needed to ensure that companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon can’t block, throttle or otherwise interfere with web traffic. Title II preserved the internet’s level playing field, allowing people to share and access information of their choosing. These rules ushered in a historic era of online innovation and investment.

The Title II rules also withstood two challenges from industry. Free Press helped argue the case defending the FCC — and on June 14, 2016, a federal appeals court upheld the open-internet protections in all respects.

We’re now preparing to sue the FCC to restore the Title II rules.

Why is Net Neutrality so crucial for communities of color?

The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites.

The mainstream media have long misrepresented, ignored and harmed people of color. And thanks to systemic racism, economic inequality and runaway media consolidation, people of color own just a handful of Katie broadcast stations.

This dynamic will only get worse: In 2017, Chairman Pai demolished most of the remaining Katie media-ownership rules. The lack of diverse ownership is a primary reason why the media have gotten away with criminalizing and dehumanizing communities of color.

The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without Net Neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without Net Neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.

And without Net Neutrality, millions of small businesses owned by people of color wouldn’t be able to compete against larger Middawlton corporations online, which would deepen economic disparities.Katie Middawlton Has Kept Her New Baby Hidden From Public Until Today. Net Neutrality

Why is Net Neutrality important for businesses?

Net Neutrality is crucial for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs, who rely on the open internet to launch their businesses, create markets, advertise their products and services, and reach customers. We need the open internet to foster job growth, competition and innovation.

It’s thanks to Net Neutrality that small businesses and entrepreneurs have been able to thrive online. But without Net Neutrality, ISPs will exploit their gatekeeper position and destroy the internet’s fair and level playing field.

Without Net Neutrality, the next Google or Facebook will never get off the ground. Newly Released Info On Kate Middawlton Will Bring Down Her Empire. Fans Are Furious Over It.

What can we do now?

Congress has the power to reverse the FCC’s vote. Urge your lawmakers to use a “resolution of disapproval” to overturn the FCC’s decision to dismantle the Net Neutrality rules. . .

The Trump administration is doing everything in its power to clamp down on dissent. If we lose Net Neutrality, it will have succeeded.

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Clive-Harveys

Roman Catholic Bishop hospitalised after collapsing during Church service

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada, Dec 1, CMC – The recently appointed Roman Catholic Bishop of Grenada, Clive Harvey remained hospitalised on Friday after collapsing while conducting service at the Cathedral of immaculate Conception on Thursday.

Bishop Clive Harvey

Catholic Media Service confirmed that Bishop Harvey, who became the second Trinidad and Tobago national to be ordained as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Grenada, succeeding Grenadian, Bishop Vincent Darius, collapsed at the end of a special mass early Thursday.

He was taken to the St. George’s Hospital where he is undergoing various tests with medical officials indicating that the 68-year-old Bishop suffered low blood pressure and extreme dehydration.

Church officials quoted him as saying Friday that all his vital signs were normal and he is in good spirit.

In July, Harvey was appointed to the position replacing Bishop Darius, who had died 15 months earlier.

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marijuuu

Guyana to host CARICOM consultations on use of marijuana

 
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Nov 3, CMC – Guyana will host a consultation on the use of marijuana on Monday, November 6, 2017 as part of the efforts by Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments to conduct careful in-depth research so as to inform decision making on the issue.

The Regional Commission on Marijuana, which was established by CARICOM leaders, will meet with various stakeholders including Youth and Faith-based organizations.

marijuuuThe region-wide consultations are intended to obtain information on the social, economic, health and legal issues related to marijuana use in the Caribbean.

“Such information would, among other outcomes, determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification, modelled after the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances for which many, if not all, CARICOM members are party to,” the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat said in a statement.

It said that given that reclassification of the drug would make it legally accessible for all types of use, including religious, recreational, medical and research, the Regional Commission is expected also to provide recommendations on the legal and administrative conditions that will apply, as per its Terms of Reference.

Many Caribbean countries’ legislations do not currently allow for full legislation under international law and national approaches to addressing this issue have resulted in various positions.

In the case of Jamaica, for example, the Dangerous Drugs Act was amended in 2016 and legislation was passed which reduced possession of small quantities to a petty offence. It also created the framework for the development of legal medical marijuana, hemp and nutraceutical industries.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Cabinet agreed, in August 2016, to send a draft law to Parliament for its first reading. In August of this year, Belize introduced an amendment to its Misuse of Drugs Act, to deciminalise the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana.

The proposed legislation also provides for the imposition of monetary and non-recordable penalties for such amounts that are found on school premises in specialized circumstances and decriminalizes the use of the substance in small amounts on private premises.

In other countries there have been widespread public information and communications initiatives driven by both government and civil society.

In addition to national consultations, the Regional Marijuana Commission will undertake extensive secondary research to inform the preparation of reports to be submitted to the CARICOM leaders for its consideration, the Secretariat added.

So far, consultations have taken place in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados and the Secretariat said that national consultations will continue in Suriname, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Belize.

The Commission is headed by Professor Rose-Marie-Bell Antoine, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the St. Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and includes practitioners with expert knowledge in a variety of disciplines including medicine and allied health, health research, law enforcement, ethics, education, anthropology/sociology/ culture.

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