Why Students Against Child Marriage?
Here's Why We Were Created
Students Against Child Marriage officially launched in July, 2020, yet its initial founding goes back much farther. In 2017, Founder and Executive Director Max Robins learned about the American child marriage crisis upon reading Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column on this abusive practice.
As a minor only several years older than the girls Kristof wrote about, Max was shocked and in disbelief that such an insidious institution could exist in the United States. Several months later, Kristof authored a second column featuring additional stories and even more disturbing statistics. Max knew that he couldn’t sit back anymore.
An undergraduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., majoring in Political Science, Max found his college environment to be ideal for fostering thought and academic research on subjects like underage marriage. He began to read whatever he could get his hands on, devoting his scholarly energies towards developing a better understanding of the issue.
Max discovered the astonishing rate at which children are forced into coercive marriages: tens of thousands of times every year. He learned that child marriage doesn’t discriminate, and that being of one race, ethnicity, religion, or even living in a certain part of the country, provides no protection from child marriage. But above all, Max realized that child marriages are little more than cover-ups for statutory rape and teenage pregnancies. They almost always force young girls into dangerous environments where prolonged physical, psychological, and sexual abuse take place under the legal protection of marriage.
When he first learned about the issue’s prevalence in our country, only two states had completely outlawed the practice. Max was incredulous—how could it be that so many states still allowed for child marriage? After continuing his research into the summer of 2019, Max learned of the challenges facing child marriage reform advocates.
In spite of the bipartisan support generated by organizations like Unchained At Last, the Tahirih Justice Center, and many others, life-saving legislation was all too often viewed as a low-priority by most state legislatures. And what’s more, America’s young people had been largely disengaged from child marriage advocacy.
As an experienced student organizer, responsible for both co-founding the Long Island, New York chapter of March for Our Lives and leading youth activities for numerous political campaigns, Max saw students as the missing link to making a difference. Time and time again, students have proven that they possess tremendous organizing power, idealism, and capability to create real change. From racial equity and criminal justice reform, to gun safety and LGBTQIA+ rights, our nation’s youth have consistently been at the center of social justice movements. What was stopping them from directing their efforts towards child marriage advocacy?
Upon obtaining extremely enthusiastic support from child marriage survivors and existing advocates, he knew that Students Against Child Marriage must be formed. Then, after more than two and a half years of research, he recruited two of his close friends to join the organization as its founding members: Ames Jewart and Maggie Giles.
An undergraduate student at American University, Ames became an invaluable source of advice and input. She joined the organization as its Chief Operating Officer and was essential to the growth of Students Against Child Marriage into the organization that it is today.
Max and Ames began to identify child marriage survivors who had publicly shared their stories. Then, Max began speaking with these brave women and learned of both their struggles and their triumph. He learned of the isolation that child marriage survivors experience, that they believe they must be “the only person in the world experiencing this suffering.” Max began to develop close relationships and deep bonds with these incredibly inspiring women. They were the core backers of the organization that supported Max’s vision and potential for young people to end child marriage.
Around this time, Maggie joined our nonprofit as its next founding member and Director of Communications. A student at SUNY Purchase College, Maggie saw the importance of elevating survivor voices and was instrumental in designing and creating the initial graphics for the organization’s first website and social media. Meanwhile, Max and Ames created the content for the website, leading to a group effort to fight against this human rights abuse which put survivors first.
Nearly three years after Max’s initial idea, Students Against Child Marriage finally launched as the nation’s first 501(c)(3) nonprofit devoted to ending the American child marriage crisis through student activism. In the years since, the organization has grown exponentially.
What began as Max’s passion project quickly became a nationwide movement. Students Against Child Marriage has grown from a small team of friends into a bustling organization active throughout the United States and beyond. The organization has launched over 50 chapters with more than 500 members and has been supported by a 40-plus student team of diligent national staffers who help Students Against Child Marriage raise unprecedented awareness and take life-saving action every day.