Parental Consent Explained
TW/CW: sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying
The fact that child marriage exists in the United States surprises a lot of Americans. There are at least 75,344 children trapped in marriages across the United States. In all but four states, laws have exceptions or loopholes that allow children to get married. One of these exceptions is parental consent. In this post, I will explain parental consent and why it is not enough to prevent abuse and exploitation in child marriages.
Different States, Different Laws
Of the 47 states and territories that allow child marriage, 43 require some form of parental consent. Sometimes both parents must give approval, but in 29 states and the District of Columbia (30 total jurisdictions), only one parent is required to give permission.
In addition to the number of parents, the type of permission also changes from state to state. In some cases, getting parental consent is as easy as giving written consent or giving consent in-person. Other times, the process is more formal. Most of the time, this means at least one parent must file an affidavit (a legal document that describes facts or events) with the court to grant permission. Sometimes it needs to be signed in front of a notary and it has the same effect as testifying under oath. Furthermore, in Connecticut, a parent must petition the court to grant a marriage license.
The last way parental consent differs by state is whether or not parental consent is enough to grant a marriage license to a child. In some states, parental consent must be paired with court approval in order for the child to obtain a marriage license. Other states, however, only require the permission of one parent (without court approval) to grant the license. This means the only thing standing between a child and a child marriage is a signature.
Dangers of Parental Consent
Parental consent is not enough to prevent children from being trapped in an abusive marriage. Much of the time, parents are the source of pressure and coercion that forces children into marriages.
This is the case of child marriage survivor, Dawn. When Dawn was 11, her parents moved to Texas, leaving her in California in the care of their family friend who sexually abused her. By 13, she fell pregnant. It was then that she was forced to marry her abuser with the encouragement and legal consent of her father.
During her marriage, Dawn was subject to emotional manipulation, bullying, threats, and continued sexual abuse. The parental consent that allowed her marriage did not protect Dawn. It was used to protect her parents - who could have faced charges of child neglect and child endangerment - and to protect her abuser, a 32-year-old man who could have been charged with child sexual abuse.
Change the Laws
Child marriage is a system designed to entrap. It can often force children to stay in dangerous, abusive environments because they have nowhere else to go. Written consent from a parent, or even a signed affidavit, is not enough to prevent the abuse and entrapment of children in marriages. This is why Students Against Child Marriage is fighting tirelessly to change state laws so the legal age to marry is 18 with no exceptions in all 50 states (and the District of Columbia).