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God’s Brides
The Tragedy of "Heaven's" Child Brides
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Child Bride Victim — Nojud Ali demanded a divorce against the tradition and later died. Born in 1998, she is a figure of Yemen's fight against forced marriage. At the age of ten, she obtained a divorce, breaking with the tribal tradition.

In Yemen, more than a quarter of girls are married before the age of 15; some as young as 11. This is blamed on poverty and lack of education.

Elissa Wall, at the age of 14, was forced to marry her 19-year-old first cousin in 2001. However, Elissa Wall is not one of the Yemeni child brides. She was born and raised in the United States, and her “marriage” took place in Utah, within the confines of the closed religious community known as the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints.

The FLDS is a Mormon sect where polygamy and underage marriage are a way of life. According to the Hope Organisation, church leader Warren Jeffs, who arranged Elissa’s union, told her that “she risked her salvation if she refused to have sexual relations with her husband.”

This led to Jeffs’s conviction in 2007 on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. However, this case is still ongoing, with an appeal hearing scheduled for November 3rd.

The Hope Organisation, which fights against underage and polygamous marriage in the US, publishes regular reports on its website showing that the FLDS is still alive and strong. This polygamous sect boasts more than 10,000 members, and controls the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.

Perhaps it is this strength in numbers which affords it the protection it seems to be getting from somewhere within the US administration. In the spring of 2008, the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas, another of the FLDS’s communities, was raided following allegations of underage marriage and sexual abuse. The American Department of Family and Protective Services removed 437 children from the ranch, triggering the largest child custody battle in US history.

Despite the fact that an epic investigation uncovered mountains of evidence, including some which plainly showed the FLDS had married young teenage girls to older men, and despite the fact that 12 men from the ranch go on trial on October 26th on sexual assault and bigamy charges, all 437 children were returned to the ranch, the last of these being 15-year-old Merrianne Jessop.

According to records that the DFPS took from the ranch, Merrianne has been married since the age of 12 to Warren Jeffs, who was 50 at the time of the ceremony. Merrianne’s father, Fredrick Merril Jessop, who essentially runs the ranch, performed the ceremony himself in July 2006.

Merrianne told caseworkers that this couldn’t be a crime because “Heavenly Father is the one that tells Warren when a girl is ready to get married...He is only following the word of Heavenly Father.”

The group now has more than two years of trials ahead of it, but they are confident that “Heaven will prevail.”



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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