A fake reality show trailer shines light on the real issue of US child marriage
JTA – A three-minute trailer for a new reality show called “Unseen Housewives,” features women describing their experiences as child brides in forced marriages.
“I was groomed as a pedophile at the age of 14 and married at the age of 16,” one of the four young women in the trailer says to the camera.
“I became a housewife at 14 but no one seemed to care when it happened,” says another.
There is no such reality show, although the trailer, doing the rounds on social media, describes a real issue. The video was produced for Unchained At Last, a non-profit that has been fighting forced and child marriages for the past 12 years.
Founded by a woman who left what she calls an abusive forced marriage in a haredi Orthodox community in Brooklyn, Unchained At Last hopes the video will draw attention to its efforts to ban marriage for children under 18 , regardless of their background.
“We’re trying to solve a problem that most people don’t know exists,” said Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained At Last. “Most Americans have no idea that child marriage is legal in the US. Child marriage is a legal nightmare trap.”
Unchained At Last has led a campaign that has banned child marriage in seven states, including New Jersey and New York. Legislation banning marriage until age 18 is currently pending in 11 states: Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, South Carolina, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, California, New Mexico, Washington and Hawaii. The organization is particularly optimistic about the passage opportunities in Vermont and Connecticut. Reiss said the group hopes to introduce similar legislation in Michigan this week.
The idea for the video came from Bruno Guimaraes, the creative director at Area 23, a Manhattan advertising agency that specializes in health care campaigns, Reiss said. Guimaraes’ wife, psychiatrist Morgan Fallor, interviewed survivors of child marriage and prepared their stories for the project.
Guimaraes’ colleague, Jihane Ghostine, made the “Unseen Housewives” video.
“I just wanted to shed light on this matter,” Ghostine said. “I’m originally from Lebanon, where it’s actually legal to get married at a very young age. I think, through our art and our craft, that we are perhaps able to change the world in some way. And this is what pushed me to do this.”
Ghostine said that Gustavo Lemme, the director of the trailer, came from São Paulo, Brazil, to direct the video. The actors featured in the trailer worked at a discounted rate because they support the cause, she said.
The lines in the video are based on true stories of women who were married when they were legally considered children. The trailer was shot in Tampa, Florida.
Reiss, married at 19, left her marriage after 12 years and went on to attend Rutgers University. In 2011, after working as a reporter at the Asbury Park Press and as a private investigator at Kroll, the global investigations company, she founded Unchained At Last. At first he helped Jewish and non-Jewish women leave arranged and forced marriages and seek custody of their children in civil court. Reiss now describes her as a “devout atheist”.
The organization has since begun pushing for legislation to ban child marriage – which is legal in 43 states with parental consent or judicial approval. Proponents say child marriage is linked to sexual exploitation, increased poverty, higher risk of health complications and lower educational attainment.
Although the issue crosses different social and religious lines, Reiss sometimes faces Orthodox Jewish communities like the one she left and, she said, had already married friends in high school. In 2018, the Haredi advocacy group Agudath Israel of America called New Jersey’s legislation too strict, saying it wanted to see an exemption for older teenagers who want to get married. The bill stalled under Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and his Democratic successor, Phil Murphy, signed it into law.
Reiss hopes the “Unseen Housewives” trailer will go viral on social media. She plans to screen it during her spring travel to promote the Unchained At Last legislative agenda.
The group plans to continue their “chain in” events, in which women wearing wedding dresses will appear in street protests with chains on their wrists and their mouths closed. More than 100 wedding dresses, some dating back to the 1940s, are on display.