What Did This Former 14-Year-Old Child Bride Actually Say?

A reader recently sent me a Dayton Daily News article about child marriage. The piece is titled “At 14, Ohio woman married 48-year-old man; says she would do it again.” Bracketing research with the story of Tessi Siders, who was pregnant and 14 when she married the 48-year-old man she’d been dating, the piece is fairly negative toward child marriage overall. It ends by noting this:

Tessi Siders [now 29] says she doesn’t regret the decision she made.

“Would I do it again? Yes! Am I in love with him? Yes! Who is in charge in the relationship? I am! Are we rich? Absolutely not,” she said. “I’m in college.”

However, as a mother of three who will turn 30 soon, she said she probably wouldn’t allow one of her children to marry so young. And she said Ohio should change its law to mandate 18 as the minimum age for both parties to marry.

“Yes, some get pregnant before 18 but if the father truly loves her, he will wait the years to marry her,” she wrote.

This leaves me very curious about who picked the headline.

Yes, Siders says she would do it again—but she also says she wouldn’t let any of her children marry at 14, and that she believes the law should be changed to mandate a minimum age of 18. And that feels rather at odds with the impression left by the piece’s headline. Consider, the headline could have run like this: “At 14, Ohio woman married 48-year-old man; says the law should change.”

Perhaps this is a symptom of the media’s love-affair with sensationalism. A former 14-year-old child bride saying she’d do it all again is going to get more clicks than a former 14-year-old child bride saying we should mandate a minimum marriage age of 18. Still, I don’t think that excuse is sufficient. Sider was not defending child marriage, and yet, the article’s sensationalized title made it sound as though she was. And that’s troubling.

Children like Siders, who marry under age 16, tend to do so with the approval of their parents at the discretion of a judge. Why a judge thought allowing a 14-year-old girl marry the 48-year-old man who got her pregnant is as much a mystery to me as it is to you, and it’s not something that happened back in the 1950s or 1960s—it happened in 2002. Other child brides have spoken out against the practice as well, noting that while we think of child marriage as a developing world problem, the reality is that it’s a problem we haven’t yet fixed ourselves.

Many thanks to the reader who sent me this article! I have been pleased to see a growing number of articles taking on this problem in recent years. Perhaps it’s one we can come together, across the spectrum of political beliefs, to finally fix.

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