Real Stories

Pregnant and Married at 13, Former Child Bride Speaks Out to Stop Child Marriage

In Australia, you are not allowed to marry under the age of 16 and there are strict laws in place to ensure a child cannot marry an adult. This isn’t the case in many other countries, including America, where there actually isn’t a child marriage law in many of the states. This may surprise you but in the US, there are only seven states that have banned the practice of child marriages with no exceptions.

This means that young girls are being groomed and forced into marriage in their early teens. One former child bride has shared her story on Twitter and through various media outlets in the hope to prevent other young girls from experiencing the trauma that she went through.

Married in sixth grade

Dawn Tyree, who lives in America, was just 11 years old when an adult male started to groom her. The adult male would come over to her house, with the approval and encouragement of Dawn’s dad and stepmother. He’d take her out, let her drive and treat her like she was older than she was.

Dawn Tyree child bride speaks out
Dawn, married at aged 13, and now. Source: Dawn Tyree

By the time she finished sixth grade, she was pregnant and married to a 32-year-old man.

“The solution was marriage,” Dawn told Today.com. “Marriage covers up the rape, the sex abuse and the child endangerment. The marriage saved him from a prison sentence and essentially put me in a prison.” 

At just 13 years old and pregnant, Dawn was powerless and terrified, especially of giving birth. Dawn was convinced she was going to die during childbirth.

Dawn didn’t die but it was a very scary and difficult labour. She then found herself pregnant again at 14.

A mother of two at 14

After the birth of her second child, Dawn started to make an escape plan in her head. Not only was she sick of the sexual abuse against her, but she also feared her children would also be the victims of the sexual abuse too.

At 16, as Dawn was ready to leave her child marriage, she fell pregnant for the third time.

 “It was a confusing time. It is brainwashing — call it what it is,” she said. “So after my daughter was born, I began to try to plan a way out. When I became pregnant again, I felt very trapped, so I made the decision to terminate the pregnancy and I escaped without a plan.”

Dawn’s escape

Dawn found herself in an incredibly scary situation for anyone, not to mention a 16-year-old. She was emancipated from her parents and legally married but also a minor which meant she wasn’t accepted into any women’s shelters.

Dawn was homeless with a one-year-old and two-year-old in tow. While it broke her to break up her family unit, she reached out to her children’s paternal grandparents for help. They took the two children in while Dawn found her feet and secured a home for the three of them as well as a job assembling bicycles at Toys’R Us.

At 18, Dawn was able to divorce her husband and won full custody of her children. Most young girls at 18 are preparing for college but Dawn was already a divorced mum of two and starting to rebuild her life.

Her child marriage remained a traumatic memory and for years and years, Dawn lived in fear of losing her children. It wasn’t until her children were in their 20s that she was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

“I don’t live in fear of losing my kids anymore,” she says. “I’ve done it — I kept us safe. They’re adults now.”

‘Speaking for those who are silenced’

Dawn is now 51 years old and hopes that her story will raise awareness for child marriage. She also testifies in state committees around the country, advocating for state and federal bills that will end the practice of child marriages across the entire nation.

“It’s no longer about me,” she said. “I can remove all of my trauma and show up for the other 13-year-old brides. I’m speaking for those who are silenced — for those who don’t have a voice.”

This isn’t something that only happens in the past. It’s still happening all around the world. We applaud Dawn for her courage, her strength, and her ability to be the best mum she can be in a situation that most of us couldn’t even fathom.

Head over to Plan.org.au to show your support to end child marriage. In the past three years, they’ve been able to stop 2,000 child brides from a life they did not ask for.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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