Fact Check: Video Of 12-Year-Old 'Bride' With Older Man As 'Groom' In Times Square Does NOT Show a Real Event

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: Video Of 12-Year-Old 'Bride' With Older Man As 'Groom' In Times Square Does NOT Show a Real Event Staged

Does a video on social media show an authentic 12-year-old child bride with an adult groom in Times Square in New York City? No, that's not true: These two individuals were part of a staged "social experiment" to record reactions from passers-by. The original footage is from a 2016 YouTube video with "(Child Marriage Social Experiment)" in the title, but the version posted on social media in 2024 leaves out that meaning-changing context.

The claim appeared on Instagram (archived here) where it was published on February 17, 2024. The caption opened with:

I can't believe pedophiles are now parading around open in society.

This is what the Instagram post looked like at the time of writing:

Screenshot 2024-02-19 at 10.00.26 AM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Feb 19 14:00:02 2024 UTC)

The video in this Instagram post has two parts. The first part shows a young girl and an adult man dressed as bride and groom, standing in public. Multiple people come up to the girl and ask her how old she is or question the supposed groom about their ages. The groom tells the strangers that he has the child's parents' permission. Strangers react primarily with disbelief and shock.

The second part of the Instagram video is an unidentified man speaking on how "we're not too far off from the in-state goal of pedophilia being a thing here in this country."

Neither the caption nor the individual in the second part of the Instagram video details where the scene took place or who the alleged bride and groom are, or what the context of the scene might be.

The words "New York" and "Broadway" are visible in the background of the Instagram video, so Lead Stories searched Google News for "young girl AND adult man AND married in public AND New York City" (archived here). There was no substantial evidence for this claim in the online news index that is Google News. But below is a screenshot from the video with the words "New York" and "Broadway" visible in the background. Circling done by Lead Stories:

Screenshot 2024-02-19 at 10.57.05 AM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Feb 19 15:06:27 2024 UTC)

Lead Stories found an article (archived here) from the UK's The Independent in 2016 reporting on the reactions people had to a "social experiment to highlight the prevalence of child marriage." The article linked to a YouTube video (archived here) created by Coby Persin, a self-described "24 year Social Experimenter/pranksters," of the supposed child bride and adult groom in New York City. The original video was titled, "65 Year Old Man Marries 12 Year Old Girl! (Child Marriage Social Experiment)" and it was posted on February 21, 2016. A man who identified himself as Coby Persin opens the YouTube video with an explanation of why he created this video:

So we wanted to do a social experiment to see how the public would react to an older man marrying a younger child. Let's see what happens ...

In the Instagram post, purported facts have been superimposed on the screen as scenes of people questioning the couple are playing.

The first one reads, "In Massachusetts, the minimum age for marriage is 12 years old, and it only requires parental consent." Lead Stories found on the official website for the state of Massachusetts that the state's law on "child brides" was amended in 2022 "to prohibit marriage for individuals under the age of eighteen, regardless of parental consent" (archived here). Before 2022, the state did not have a law specifying a minimum age for marriage with a parent's consent (archived here) but such a marriage required court approval. As of this writing, Massachusetts state law says: "A magistrate or minister shall not solemnize a marriage if a party to the intended marriage is under the age of 18."

The second alleged fact reads, "In Colorado, more than 5,820 12-year-old girls have contracted marriage." Searching for this quote in Google (example of search here) (archived here) did not lead us to a reliable news outlet that could corroborate the specific "5,820" number. In May 2019, a bill (archived here) titled, "Modernizing Marriage Laws For Minors" was passed (archived here). The bill now states that persons under the age of 16 are prohibited from having a marriage license.

The final purported fact on the screen reads, "In Texas, more than 40,481 12-year-old girls have contracted marriage." Searching for this quote in Google (example of search here) (archived here) did not lead us to a reliable news outlet that could back up the "40,481" number. In September 2023, Texas Senate Bill 924 (archived here) became law, banning all marriages involving minors, with no exceptions. Prior to that, a state law enacted in 2017 had prohibited marriage of any person under 16. That law also required anyone under 18 to get a judge's consent before marrying.

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Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

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