She was 13 when she got pregnant and married, and now she fights against child marriage

Dawn Tyree didn’t really have a youth. She married a guy 19 years her senior the summer after she finished sixth grade. She is now 51 years old and has two children. That’s right, the SIXTH grade. The man had already given birth to her, so she became married and a mother at the age of 13. She is angry today that this kind of thing is allowed in our country. Tyree says that when she was eleven years old, her parents pushed her to start hanging out with the 30-year-old guy. She says that he sex abused her and groomed her.

Her parents let him abuse her, but she says that getting married was the “solution” to that. She told, “Marriage hides the rape, the sex abuse, and the child abuse.” “The marriage kept him out of jail, but it put me in jail,” she says. She had another baby when she was only 14. Tyree says she understands now that having kids so young was dangerous for her. The WHO says that problems like eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and other infections are much more likely to happen to children who give birth.

“Without a plan,” Tyree left her violent marriage when she was 16 years old because she was afraid her husband would sexually abuse their children. Because she was a minor, domestic violence shelters wouldn’t take the family. This meant that the young mother had to give control of her children to their paternal grandparents until she could find a place to live. Shelters that don’t accept married kids are another problem child brides who are trying to leave abusive marriages have to deal with.

The courts are also a problem. As a child, Dawn had to wait until she was 18 to get divorced and get custody of her kids. “The courts always side with the adult, even in these horrible marriages and horrible acts against children,” she says. “Putting together bikes at Toys R Us was my first real job.” That’s how I paid our one-bedroom rent in a small house. Now that her kids are grown up, Tyree fights for other kids who might be forced to get married as a child, like she was.

The United States lets each state decide what age is legal to get married. In 43 of the 50 states, marriage to a minor is still allowed. Tyree has made it her life’s work to end child marriage. She wants to do this in every country, but she is focusing on the one where she lives. She says, “It’s not about me anymore.” “I can get over my stress and be there for the other 13-year-old brides.” People who are shut up and don’t have a voice tell me what they think.

Like her, Tyree knows that people who were married as children are trying to figure out how to get out of their living nightmare. She has a message for them: “There are people out here aware of these circumstances that feel so lonely and isolating,” she says. “We will fight for you. Keep going. Hold on.

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