Tolerance or Exploitation?

Pamela Pizarro

Think that child marriage only happens in the developing world? Think again - a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism has been marrying the young girls in their community to men two or even three times their age.

Canada is well known for its tolerance and acceptance of different religions, ethnicities and beliefs. Although I believe in and fully support letting individuals decide their own religion, the debate becomes murky when religious practices become dangerous to the development and well-being of any individual. This is the case of polygamy practices of a breakaway sect of Mormonism in Bountiful, British Columbia. This fundamentalist sect of Mormonism preaches that the marriage of a man to more than one woman is ordained by god, and needed in order to reach the kingdom of heaven.

In this sect the practice of marrying young girls in their teens to older men, who are very often old enough to be their fathers and grandfathers, is quite common. The average birth rate for women in the sect is “eight or nine children while the provincial average is 1.5." The leader of the sect, Winston Blackmore, also claims that he himself married girls that “lied about their age.” The entire sect has low levels of education, but in the case of women, girls are expected to have a child a year as soon as they are able. Females are often pulled out of school because their role in society is to be at home, looking after children, and taking care of the needs of her husband.

Although located in Canada, the practice of young women being married to older men is no different than those in developing nations. These women are still being isolated and restricted from reaching their full potentials. Women, who have left the group, speak of sexual molestation and physical abuse. Women are considered to be the property of men and as such have no rights within the group. They are forced to marry, often times against their will and their religion teaches them that the only way to reach heaven is through complete and utter obedience to their husbands.

Although we have the laws in place to help exploited children, there is a strong need for enforcement. It is no coincidence that this sect chooses to live in isolated communities away from mainstream society, they know that the more hidden they are the less likely authorities will come looking for them. For the sake of the children and youth in these communities, provincial and federal governments should do more to protect their rights, despite the fact that we uphold the right to religious freedom. If it’s not okay in developing countries, then why is it okay in Canada? For more information on the Bountiful sect please visit: http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/features/polygamy/index.html

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