Child Marriages Are Still Legal in Most US States
When you hear the term “child marriage” what does your mind conjure? An ancient practice predicated long, long ago? Perhaps you think of undeveloped countries overseas. What if I told you that child marriage happens here in the US too, and it’s legal in all nearly all US states?
According to Unchained At Last, a nonprofit in the US dedicated to helping women and girls escape arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives, “The minimum marriage age in most US states is 18, but exceptions in every state allow those younger than 18 to marry. How much younger? Laws in 27 states do not set a minimum age below which a child cannot marry.”
One common exception that allows children to marry under the age of 18 is parental consent—“in most states, children age 16 or 17 can marry if their parents sign the marriage license application.” Another exception is judicial approval—“In many states, judicial approval lowers the marriage age below 16, and many states do not specify a minimum age below which a judge may not approve a child marriage. Typically, states allow judges to approve marriages for couples whose ages or age differences should trigger a statutory-rape charge, not a marriage license.” (1)
Things You Should Know:
- Unchained At Last reports that 248,000 children were married in America between 2000 and 2010. (2)
- Of those children, 77% where girls married to adult men. (2)
- Women who marry young are 31% more likely to live in poverty later in life than women who delayed marriage. (3)
- “Women married before the age of 18 are three times more likely to have been beaten by their spouse than women married at age 21 or older.” (4)
- “Maternal mortality for girls between 15 and 19 years old is twice as high as for women giving birth in their 20s, and for girls under age 15 it is five times as high.” (4)
The US Christian community is not immune to child marriage either. One example is this story of an 11-year old child bride from a conservative Christian church. “She says she was raped by both a minister and a parishioner and gave birth to a daughter when she was just 10 (the birth certificate confirms that). A judge approved the marriage to end the rape investigation, she says, telling her, “What we want is for you to get married.” (5)
It is my opinion that child marriage is an indicator of the continued need for equality conversations, law reform, abuse education, and discussion of unsafe religious practices and ideologies. Topics such as adult, informed, coercion free, enthusiastic consent need more air time in both religious and secular communities. Marriage is not a safe solution for sexual abuse, premarital sex of a minor, or child pregnancy.
If you are aware of an individual trapped in a child marriage, please contact Unchained At Last at:
1 (908) 481-HOPE
Notes And Sources:
(1) Unchained At Last: Laws To End Child Marriage
(2) Unchained At Last, statistics stated to be based on population figures according to US Census.