Child marriage is an overarching problem that intersects with other issues that affect all Americans. The repercussions of child marriage are all-encompassing and can affect the child’s health, safety, and economic freedom - all key components of reproductive justice. Today I will be discussing the intersections between child marriage and reproductive justice.
In legislation that continues to perpetrate child marriage in the United States, pregnancy is often an exception in state legislation to perpetuate child marriage. This means that in some states, pregnancy can be used to lower the legal age for marriage to below 18. This exception is based on traditional notions of family obligation and what some people believe a family is supposed to look like: two married parents and a child.
In this case, child marriage is viewed as a bandaid for a teen pregnancy problem, a way to guarantee the protection of the child. However, the person having a child is also a child in need of protection. Those who oppose legislation to raise the minimum age to get married seem to forget about the safety of the pregnant child in their attempts to protect the child of teen parents. Also, many who use child marriage to solve the problem of teen pregnancy do not support reproductive justice efforts that would prevent teen pregnancy in the first place.
Reproductive justice is a movement started by indigenous women, women of color, and trans people that declares a “human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” Reproductive justice goes hand-in-hand with - but is not the same as - reproductive health (clinics, doctors, etc.) and reproductive rights (legal protection of abortion, contraception, etc.).
Reproductive justice is about more than a person’s reproductive health - which includes access to contraception, STI/STD testing, comprehensive and prevention-based sex education. It’s about having and raising those kids in a safe and healthy environment, including homes that protect families and are safe from violence, economic stability to provide for families, and domestic violence assistance. This is just a short list of things that fall under the reproductive justice umbrella. Anything that affects the safety, health, and wellbeing of families and children are included in reproductive justice.
As such, preventing child marriage is also an important component of reproductive justice.
Those who marry underage are 31 percentage points more likely to live in poverty, putting their futures at risk. Additionally, getting married and divorcing can double the chances of poverty for teen mothers, and 70-80% of child marriages result in divorce.
On top of the financial struggles, there are impacts on a child’s physical and mental health when they marry underage. Girls who marry earlier have greater chances of developing serious health issues, such as diabetes, cancer, or stroke. Girls 16-19 are more likely to experience intimate partner violence at 3x the national average. This information demonstrates that child marriage should be considered a major psychological trauma. Additionally, when domestic violence does occur, there are a number of barriers that prevent children from being able to seek help.
Child marriage and its effects threaten victims’ abilities to maintain personal body autonomy, as well as a safe and sustainable community. Child marriage creates hurdles to ensure a safe and secure environment to raise a family. Like many issues affecting the U.S. today, child marriage is a reproductive rights issue.