Child Marriages in the US

Child marriages do happen in the United States too. In fact, at the time of writing this, only 2 out of the 50 states in the US is it illegal to marry any girl under the age of 18.

Child marriage disproportionately impacts girls, depriving them of their education, health, and safety. This has to stop. Globally, 1 in 5 women were married before their 18th birthday. In the US, child marriage is perfectly legal in some form in 48 states except two states — Delaware and New Jersey, both of which raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exception just last year.

In these 48 states, the minimum age of marriage is technically 18. These states have legal exceptions that allow children younger than 18 to be married. In these states, a child may be married with a judge’s permission, parental consent, or if a child is pregnant or has given birth. In some states, two or more of these conditions must be met for a child to be able to be married, but in no state is a child’s consent required for him or, more likely, her to be married.

Children in Massachusetts and Maine can be married at any age with the consent of a parent and court approval. In Alaska, members of the military on active duty who are under the age of 18 can marry without parental consent, while children as young as 16 can be married with parental consent. And 14- and 15-year-olds who are pregnant or have given birth to children can be married with a court’s approval in North Carolina.

“…when we’re talking about child marriage, we’re talking about a human rights abuse that destroys girls’ lives and there’s nothing beautiful romantic or happy about that.” – Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of nonprofit Unchained At Last

In most US states, people cannot take legal action until they are adults, meaning a child who could legally get married before her 18th birthday does not have the right to file for divorce. And on an even more basic level, if a child experiences domestic violence in their marriage — as was the case for Reiss, a survivor of forced marriage at age 19 — they may not be able to leave their home. They may even receive criminal charges for doing so because several states still consider it a crime for a minor to run away from home.

For the full report on this, read Child Marriages Happen in the US, Too. Here’s Everything You Need to Know.

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