An American Legacy of Abuse
“None of it felt like a real marriage to me, and it began to feel more and more like a prison.” - Sara
The United States has a child marriage problem, and it’s time to do something about it. There are currently over 75,344 children trapped in underage marriages across the country. Despite the United Nation’s classification of child marriage as a human rights violation, nearly one hundred thousand defenseless children—mostly young girls—are forced into abusive and traumatic marriages each year.
It’s hard to believe that America, the supposed champion of “freedom and equality,” allows the life-ruining institution of child marriage to persist. The vast majority of the nation remains unaware of this critically important problem, resulting in archaic laws and legal loopholes that have gone unchanged for centuries. As of July, 2020, only four states have outlawed this despicable practice. With few lawmakers standing up in defense of society’s most vulnerable, the other forty-six states let tens of thousands of children slip through the cracks of our judicial system every year.
A Country Misguided: Child Marriage in Our Own Backyard
You might think child marriage reform would be a no-brainer. Think again. Despite repeated attempts by survivors and advocates each year to overcome the legislative shortcomings that destroy countless young lives, misconceptions and misinformation prevent progress and prolong a deadly status quo.
Many think these laws simply allow for high school sweethearts to begin happily-ever-after lives with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids. But all is not Jack and Jill. The reality is far more sinister: child marriages are often forced marriages which feature young girls coerced by their parents or guardians into marrying adult men sometimes two, three, or even five times their age.
Underage Marriage is a Modern American Crisis
The federal government’s failure to protect countless victims of underage marriage has resulted in a tangled approach to regulating minimum marital ages. Between parental or judicial approval requirements and even twisted legal exceptions for pregnant girls that stigmatize pregnancy out of wedlock, child marriage legislation differs from state to state.
Although it has been up to state legislatures to reform their outdated and abuse-friendly marital laws, most states have shirked their duty. The map above showcases the status of child marriage in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, including their number of cases, current martial laws, and recent attempts at reform.
For a deeper dive into each state, explore the rest of this section to learn more about the numbers of victims facing child marriage, the state’s current laws, and the recent progress made to raise the minimum age of marriage.
Ending child marriage means understanding the reasons why girls are coerced into arranged marriages with sexual predators in the first place and why it’s so hard for them to escape. More than just a single loophole, read why underage marriage is the product of a legal system built to perpetuate abuse.
206 Children Are Married Every Day Across America. We Can Make It Zero.
Students Against Child Marriage is committed to ending child marriage throughout the United States. After two years of research, we have published our 10 State Strategic Plan to reform child marriage laws across the country and protect young girls and boys. We are dedicated to ensuring that no child in the United States is ever forced into a coerced, abusive marriage again, but we need your help.
To find out more about getting involved and taking action in this critical fight, sign up for our Action List and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can also see the great work of our partner organizations to support their important causes. Together, we can be the generation to finally end child marriage and prevent hundreds of thousands of young girls from arranged marriages across America.