Child Marriage is More Than Just Broken Laws. It’s a System Designed to Entrap.

Marriage Licenses For All, Divorces for None

The complex and contradictory laws which regulate child marriage are deliberately designed to entrap minors and destroy lives. Beyond the abuse and trauma resulting from these coerced marriages, victims are further isolated by the legal system that supports underage marriage.

Although children of any age can be wed in states like Massachusetts or California, those same children can’t actually divorce their abusive spouses. The limited rights of minors largely prevent them from speaking with attorneys and signing documents, so the permission of a parent or legal guardian is required when obtaining a divorce. 

This fact becomes complicated as guardianship is frequently transferred over to the spouse once a minor is married. The legal rights of the child bride and her path towards freedom are thus placed in the very hands of the man from whom she needs to escape. 

Once Forced Into a Perfectly Legal Underage Marriage, Victims Have Virtually No Way Out Until Adulthood

On top of the absurdity of allowing marriage but not divorce under age 18, domestic violence shelters are also forbidden by law from helping minors who flee the abuse of their spouse. In fact, laws designed to aid in the capture of runaways actually return married minors directly back to their violent partners. 

With advocacy and support groups similarly prevented by law from intervening in most cases of married minors, this hybrid wife and child abuse continues to cause irreparable harm until long after the survivor’s eighteenth birthday.

It’s Not a Marriage. It’s a Child and the Adult Man Abusing Her.

Every case of child marriage is different. But themes of coercion, abuse, domestic violence, and trauma are a common thread among survivor stories. Complex motivations, ranging from family traditions and religious beliefs to financial pressure and stigmas surrounding teen pregnancy, often result in parental and court approval of youth marriage.

Child marriages regularly serve as cover-ups for statutory rape or out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and they almost always force young girls into environments of prolonged physical, psychological, and sexual abuse disguised as a marriage. But the outward appearance of a happy couple couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, the domestic abuse is hidden from the outside world, and frequently even from the couple’s own children. The trauma recovery process for the women forced into these marriages is both incredibly difficult and lifelong. 

To learn more about the experiences of child marriage survivors, read the brave Survivor Voices that we’ve featured. If you are facing or fleeing a forced child marriage, or know of anyone who is in danger of an arranged underage marriage, look to our Resources for Survivors page to get help.

Wondering how common is this horrific practice? Read the Shameful Statistics of child marriage to learn about the number of victims in your state.

Students Against Child Marriage is the first student nonprofit nationwide devoted to ending American child marriage. We are recognized as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) public charity by the IRS.

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  • Students Against Child Marriage Instagram Link
  • Students Against Child Marriage Facebook Link
  • Students Against Child Marriage Twitter Link
  • Students Against Child Marriage LinkedIn Link