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Comprehensive Child Marriage Research Library

The Lived Experience of Child Marriage in the United States


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Wahi, Aditi; Zaleski, Kristen L.; Lampe, Jacob; Bevan, Patricia; Koski, Alissa


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Routledge Journals, Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Peer Reviewed


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Students Against Child Marriage's Object Summary:

This article begins by documenting the effects of child marriage based on research conducted around the world as well as US-specific data: high divorce rates, increased health risks, low educational achievement, and poverty, among others. This study interviewed 21 people who were married in the US between the ages of 13 and 17 and identifies three major themes in the reasoning behind these marriages: “Romeo and Juliet: lack of control/consent to the marriage and the [confusing] notion of love,” “La La Land: [limited] knowledge about marriage and parenthood,” and “that was the expectation: culture and family beliefs.” They found that married minor’s education was impacted, that most did not freely or knowingly consent to the marriage, that the overwhelming majority of these marriages ended in divorce, and that child marriage is tremendously gendered.

Article Abstract (If Available):

Despite international and domestic calls to end child marriage, 48 U.S. states permit the marriage of minors younger than age 18 as of August 2018. In developing nations, child marriage is associated with a wide range of adverse economic, health, and mental health outcomes, yet little research has been done to understand its effects on developed nations such as the United States. This study is the first to interview adults who were married as children in the United States, to investigate the reasons why the marriages occurred, and qualitatively understand the experiences of married American children. 21 participants (20 females and 1 male) self-selected into this study to complete an online questionnaire and be interviewed by phone. Participants were married between ages 13 and 17. Most participants (n = 18) reported physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse during their marriage as well as unwanted and/or unplanned pregnancies. This study shows some important social justice issues related to consent and the qualitative differences inherent in deciding to marry during childhood. Notably, this study did not find that pregnancy was the reason most participants married as minors, as some policy debates across the U.S. report.

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