Child marriage in America

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In the film "The Sacrifice," Darby Stanchfield as mother, Loretta, Jon Lindstrom as father, Walter, Molly Quinn as daughter, Esmee, and Chris Mulkey as Rev. Dobbins on the day he arrives to take 13-year-old Esmee as his wife. The film premieres at the HollyShorts film festival, Aug. 10.

“The Sacrifice,” written and directed by Malibu resident Diane Namm, brings to light the reality of child marriage in America.

By Olivia Damavandi / Special to The Malibu Times

Child slavery comes in many forms, and in the film “The Sacrifice,” it is depicted by marriage. The film, written and directed by Malibu resident Diane Namm, and featuring an all-star cast, is a short drama encapsulating what happens the day a polygamous cult leader comes to take a reluctant 13-year-old girl from her parents to be his wife. Though it is fictional, the story bears striking similarities to the news reports of child marriages discovered from the recent West Texas polygamist compound raid (which occurred shortly after the movie was filmed), and “The Sacrifice” shows an accurate depiction of the physical and emotional trauma instigated by child marriage, a growing and significant concern here in the United States.

Today, the disparaging consequences of child marriage continue to be neglected in parts of South Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and various other areas of the developing world.

“Millions of child brides, some barely past puberty, are denied access to health, education and economic opportunities,” wrote Lyn Thomas, deputy director-general of International Planned Parenthood Association in a guide for global policy action called “Ending Child Marriage.” “The majority of them are burdened with the roles and responsibilities of wives and mothers without adequate support, resources or capabilities.”

While American news journalists frequently report child marriages in Third World countries, the matter is largely ignored in the United States.

“Since there are many fundamentalist religions and cultures out there in which young girls are forced into early marriage and childbearing, I felt that setting this story in the heart of middle America would make it more immediate for the audience-rather than setting it in a foreign country-so that the audience couldn’t dismiss this as the sort of thing that happens elsewhere and not in the U.S., which it does, daily,” Namm said.

The International Women’s Health Coalition asserts child marriage as the chief reason of pregnancies worldwide before the age of 15.

“Often living in their husbands’ households and communities, the young girls face intense pressure to bear children as soon as possible, with potentially disastrous results,” the coalition stated.

The IWHC also states that the potentially disastrous consequences include a very high risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth (prevalent especially in girls age 14 and younger), including prolonged and obstructed labor, maternal death and increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, among a plethora of other problems. Many young victims of child marriage also suffer from obstetric fistula, “a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence and results in shame and social isolation.”

Namm, a longtime Malibu resident, playwright, screenwriter, director, and children’s book author and producer, was prompted to make ‘The Sacrifice” when she was made aware of child marriage several years ago through a court ruling.

“I became troubled by a Southwestern state’s supreme court ruling that upheld the ‘marriage’ of a minor girl to a much older man, which was validated by the state’s child-marriage legislation, permitting a minor to marry with parental consent and/or a judge’s order,” Namm said. “Incensed, I called an attorney friend of mine in that state, wanting to appeal that decision. My friend explained I had no standing, and unless I chose to move to that state and lobby to change the legislation, there wasn’t much I could do.

“In the meantime, some young girl had been given a life sentence of domestic slavery and sexual abuse, and the state’s highest court had determined that was just fine.”

Thus, Namm penned a story about the situation to, she said, “Pose the question as to what would happen if the girl’s parents had refused to abide by the laws and/or religious authority to which they’d been in thrall all of their lives.”

Despite her multifaceted talent, Namm credits the experienced cast of the ‘The Sacrifice” for supplementing it with “deftness and depth.” Starring in the film are Chris Mulkey (“First Blood,” “Bullworth,” “48 Hours”), Darby Stanchfield (“Mad Men,” “Jericho,” “24,”), Jon Lindstrom (“The Double Born,” “Must Love Dogs,”), Molly Quinn ( Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol”) and Richard Riehle (“Casino,” “The Fugitive,” “Glory,”), who Namm refers to as her “personal heroes.”

Stanchfield, who plays the mother of 13-year-old Esmee (Molly Quinn) who is in danger of being abducted by a polygamist cult leader, said she hopes “The Sacrifice” will be successful in film festivals, and that it receives a great deal of exposure.

“It is a compelling story of a human rights violation that needs to be told, and it sends a real strong, emotional message to anyone who watches it,” Stanchfield said. “Storytelling is so powerful in getting people to feel, and then consequently at times to take action.”

Namm agreed, and affirmed her sincerest hope is that “marriage laws that exist today in 39 states, which permit minors younger than 18 to marry, with the consent of a parent and/or a judge’s order, will be rescinded so that there’s no possible legal loophole for religious sects to cloak the rape and abuse of young girls as a state-condoned act.”

She added, “I also hope that in spite of the reversal of the state’s rescue efforts in the West Texas compound, no one should be confused about the danger these girls, and sometimes young boys as well, face. The message that the film represents is that under no circumstances is it acceptable to use ‘the right to religious freedom’ to justify and sustain an ongoing pattern of rape and abuse within a community.”

Lindstrom, who plays Esmee’s father, hopes the film “provokes some discussion about laws in America that need to be revisited because they were adopted at a different time and from a different consciousness than we have now.”

Stanchfield said, “One of the many aspects that is so brilliant about Diane Namm’s writing [is her ability to] trim the fat off of the story, so that what needs to be said, is said, but nothing more.”

With a run time of just less than 15 minutes, “The Sacrifice” embodies the millions of innocent girls who, as Namm put it, “Have been robbed of their childhood, and will never get the opportunity to become self-sufficient, independent-thinking individuals.”

“The Sacrifice” will premiere Sunday, August 10, 1 p.m., at the HollyShorts film festival, screening at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theater located at 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. More information can be obtained by calling 323.848.3500. Tickets can be purchased online at www.hollyshorts.com.