Politics Magazine

45 States In This Country Still Allow Children To Marry

Posted on the 21 June 2021 by Jobsanger
States This Country Still Allow Children MarryMost states in the U.S. still allow children to get married, and sometimes they are very young. This needs to stop. No one under the age of 18 should be allowed to get married.

The following is part of a column by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times:

For years, the United States has campaigned against child marriage around the world, from Guatemala to Zimbabwe. But we should listen to ourselves: Forty-five states here in America continue to allow girls and boys under 18 to wed.

Girls as young as 10 are occasionally married quite legally in the United States. Nine states have established no absolute minimum age for marriage.

A study this year found that nearly 300,000 children — meaning age 17 and under — were married in the United States from 2000 to 2018. An overwhelming majority were 16- or 17- year-old girls, on average marrying a man four years older. But more than 1,000 were 14 or younger, and five were only 10 years old. Some were wed to people far older. . . .

I’ve been writing about child marriages in the United States since 2017, when I came across the case of an 11-year-old girl, Sherry Johnson, who had been forced to marry her rapist in Florida. Child marriage was then allowed in some form in all 50 states.

Now, thanks in part to heroic work by an advocacy organization, Unchained at Last, five states have completely barred marriages by people under 18: Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and (just this month) Rhode Island. New York has passed a similar bill that is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The states that allow child marriages mostly do so in particular circumstances, such as with the permission of a parent and a judge. These safeguards don’t work very well. The marriages sometimes involve a girl, perhaps pregnant, marrying an older man who may be her rapist.

The new study found that 60,000 of the child marriages since 2000 involved couples with a large enough gap in ages that sex would typically be a crime. “The marriage license became a get-out-of-jail-free card in most of those states,” said Fraidy Reiss, a victim of forced marriage who founded Unchained at Last.

There are, of course, 17-year-olds who fall deeply in love and can handle a marriage. We can understand that if a girl becomes pregnant, the couple may prefer to marry right away. But it’s complicated: The legal system withholds many rights from people under 18, so a married 17-year-old can become trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare.

If the marriage sours, an underage girl will often not be accepted at a women’s shelter. She will have difficulty retaining a lawyer to get assistance. Astonishingly, she may even have trouble getting divorced, because children often cannot initiate a legal proceeding without going through a guardian. And if a minor flees a violent husband, the police may send her right back to her abuser. . . .

The United States is quite right to campaign to end child marriage in Bangladesh and Yemen. Let’s do the same at home.


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