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Outright Bans, Not Patchwork Legislation

A Fight to Ban Child Marriage

For years advocates have worked tirelessly to enact life-saving child marriage legislation in the United States. However, in the last three years, only four states have banned child marriage without exceptions. In the remaining states and territories, dangerous legal loopholes still allow children to marry.

The U.S. doesn't allow children to vote, get a full-time job, sign a lease, buy a car, adopt a child. So why does it allow them to get married? Entering marriage as a child can have devastating and long-lasting impacts. Despite these serious and sometimes life-threatening consequences, advocates fighting to end child marriage across the country still face pushback.

‘Sixteen Candles’ Law Note

A 2020 law Note published in the University of Illinois Law Review, “Sixteen Candles on My Wedding Cake: Implications of Banning Child Marriage in America,” addressed multiple arguments around completely banning child marriage in the U.S. In examining these arguments, the author, Marie Johnson-Dahl, sought to determine “which minors are marrying, whether minors may have any constitutional right to marriage, and whether minors wishing to marry might be able to stake a claim to religious liberty.”

Johnson-Dahl did not find evidence that the right for children to marry is included in the fundamental right to marry, nor some claims to religious liberty. However, she ultimately came to the conclusion that outright bans on child marriage are “wrong on social and policy grounds,” as they would deny children a ‘right’ they had previously been granted.

Child Marriage is a Human Rights Violation

Arguments, like Johnson-Dahl’s that claim banning child marriage, will violate children’s rights miss a key point: The United Nations has declared child marriage itself a human rights violation.

According to the UN, child marriage threatens the lives and futures of children around the world by disrupting their education, putting them at greater risk of violence and abuse, and preventing them from reaching their full potential in economic, political, and social spheres.

Child marriage can also put the health of young girls at risk as it often results in early and frequent pregnancies. Pregnancy complications are the leading cause of death among older adolescent girls.

We Need Outright Bans

While Johnson-Dahl argues that child marriage legislation should be tailored to the needs of individual states, this kind of patchwork legislation already exists in the U.S. and is clearly not an effective solution to this problem.

Students Against Child Marriage is working to ban child marriage outright. That does not mean it is not focused on addressing the systemic issues that intersect with this abuse.

SACM seeks to safeguard the health, safety, and autonomy of all children. This starts with ending child marriage but also fighting for reproductive justice, gender equity, and economic and educational improvements. Some of these goals may take time, but we can help protect thousands of children right now by banning child marriage in all U.S. states.

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