It’s time to talk about child marriage in the U.S.


Sophia Maxim

At least 207,459 minors were legally married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2015. Eighty-seven percent of these minors were girls, and 86 percent of the minors married an adult.

Lanier Pickren

Child marriage. It sounds like an oxymoron, two words that are not meant to go together. However, for millions of girls around the world, these words aren’t contradictory, they’re reality.  

When we think of child marriage, our minds immediately jump to the conclusion that it only happens in developing countries. We think that because our nation is more developed and that human rights agendas are so pushed, it could never happen here. However, America has its own child marriage epidemic, and no one is talking about it. 

In the U.S., child marriage is defined as a marriage where one party is under the age of 18, the age when you are legally considered an adult in the U.S. However, loopholes allow children younger than 18 to be married. These loopholes have allowed at least 207,459 minors to be legally married between 2000 and 2015. Additionally, in 23 states, there is no legal minimum age set for marriage. For example, in California, a 13-year old girl could be married with her parents’ consent. 

In most of the cases, the child being wed is much younger than their spouse, and most of the time that child is female. Out of the 207,459 minors, 86 percent of the minors were married to adults, and 87 percent of the minors were young girls. Moreover, statistics have shown that girls who marry before age 15 are 50 percent more likely to experience physical violence from a partner.

For these young girls, there seems to be no escape. In most cases of forced child marriages, the child’s own parents are the ones forcing the child into marriage. As a child, we are completely dependent on our parents, so what can be done when the parents are the ones forcing the vows to the significantly older spouse?

Fraidy Weiss, the founder of the non-profit Unchained At Last, put this sentiment into words in a video for the popular YouTube channel, Iris.

“It’s so difficult for women who are facing a forced marriage, or in a forced marriage, to reach out and get help because, in most cases, the perpetrators are their own parents, their own family, it’s their loved ones,” Weiss said.

Weiss’s non-profit works to end forced and child marriages in the U.S. and to provide support for girls facing and trying to escape a marriage. 

Leaving a child marriage isn’t easy. Let’s say you are a minor and you are trying to escape an abusive relationship. If you try to run away, some homeless shelters may not accept you because you are under 18, and your parents could be notified. If your parents were the ones forcing the marriage, this is an extremely unideal situation. If you want to get a divorce, in some cases, your parent or guardian has to file for a divorce for you, which is not an option. 

All of these legal proceedings and laws regarding minors and marriage prevent young girls from leaving a vicious cycle of abuse. In a way, it gives room for legalized domestic abuse. These girls did not get a say in the marriage as minors, and the proceedings for getting out of the marriage often endanger the victim by putting them at the hands of their perpetrators and preventing them from leaving the abuse. 

Our very own state of Georgia isn’t exempt from this. While the minimum age for marriage with parent’s consent is set at 16, in the case of pregnancy or birth of a child, a marriage license could be obtained at any age. If a young girl was raped and became pregnant, she could be forced to marry her rapist at her guardian’s choice, and our laws would allow it. 

This is something that needs to be changed. As teenagers, our own peers are the ones being caught in this legal trap. The solutions to this problem are simple: make the minimum marriage age set at 18 with no exceptions. This would prevent minors from being forced into a non-consensual marriage, and make it easier for them to leave a marriage because they are a legal adult.  

This human rights abuse isn’t far away; it’s right here in our own state, our own country. We have the power to bring awareness to it and call for action to get rid of this injustice. It’s time we talk about child marriage in the U.S.