Child Marriage in America

Child Marriage in America is a thing, but it definitely shouldn't be

A lot of you know I studied political science in college, so paying attention to the going on in the world around me is important to me. Of course, since the kids, I can’t pay as close attention as I used to/as I’d like to, but I still like to think that I am aware of things. So when I read in the New York Times that child marriages are happening in America, I thought no way. This is America – we have laws against such things, right? And even if child marriage in America is happening, it can’t possibly be legal, can it?

Imagine my surprise and shock when I learned that no, these marriages are legal. And over half of states have no legal minimum age for marriage. I always just assumed this was one of those things you couldn’t do until you were an adult or at the very least, 16 with your parent’s consent. At least that’s what I’ve always heard and it does turn out that Wisconsin has a minimum legal age of 16. So perhaps that’s where some of my thinking that everywhere in the United States has a law like that comes from.

But I mean, it’s absurd. I don’t want to say that I think it’s always a bad idea for people to marry young. While I was not a teenager, I was only 20 when I married. So obviously, I feel that marrying young can be fine. But there is a big difference between a 20-year-old and a 13-year-old. Most teenagers can not even go to the bathroom at school without permission. They can’t vote or do other things that we consider to be adult things, so why should we be allowing them to get married? In one case, it talks about an 11-year-old being married. You can not tell me that the 11-year-olds you know are prepared to be married. At the very least, the 11-year-olds I know aren’t. I don’t want to rehash the article, but I think that you should definitely read it.

But, as with anything, I did not stop at one source. When I learn about something, I want to dig in all the way deep. So I did some more searching about child marriage in America. I thought I would include some more of the things I turned up in my search for further reading.

Like this older New York Times article that explains that while the minimum is 18 in most places, there are exceptions and even if it appears that the kids don’t want to be married, judges have little they can do about it and there are few laws explicitly forbidding forced marriage. Girls in forced marriages often have little resources if things go wrong.

If you are a numbers person, Pew has compiled some data on this issue. If you want a global perspective, the Independent has an article comparing the US to the situation in Europe and worldwide.

Marriage is a beautiful, wonderful thing and forced child marriage is a terrible thing to do.  But lest you think all hope is lost, states are starting to pass bills restricting this practice. There is still a long way to go. However, I feel like child marriage in America is an issue we could learn to all come together on. The stories are hard to read, but I don’t think we should shy away from reading things just because they are hard. We can’t change things we don’t know about or we won’t admit are problems.

Were you aware of this problem? What do you think should be done to solve it?

Photo by Celia Michon on Unsplash

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