Child marriage is defined as any marriage or similar union, formal or informal, where one or both of the parties are under 18 years old. While the child in the marriage can be a girl or boy, a majority of child marriages are between a minor girl and a man. Around the world, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year.
Child marriage, usually forced, happens in all different countries, cultures, and religions. It is increasingly being viewed as a form of child sexual abuse and some international organization s have declared it as a human rights violation. Child marriage is fueled by gender equality, poverty, traditions, and insecurity. Studies done in Africa and South Asia showed that the root causes and exacerbating factors that contribute to child marriage are traditions and gender-discriminatory norms rooted in patriarchal views and ideologies.
Minimum Marriage Age in the United States
In the United States, the marriage age is set by each state and territory, either by the common law or by individual statues. An individual in the United States can marry without parental consent at the age of 18 in all states. This is except for Nebraska, where the age is 19, and Mississippi and Puerto Rico, where the age is 21. In most U.S. states, the minimum marriage age for minors that have parental consent ranges from 12 to 17 years old. California and Mississippi do not have set minimum ages for minors to marry with parental consent. Some states have separate minimum ages for males and females, with or without parental consent. Massachusetts has the lowest minimum marriage ages with parental consent of 12 for girls and 14 for boys.
U.S. Child Marriage Facts
In the U.S., about 200,000 minors have married between 2000 and 2015. Of the 200,000 child marriages: 67% of the children were 17, 29% of the children were 16, 4% of the children were 15, less than 1% of children were 14 or under, and there were 51 cases of 13-year-olds getting married and 6 cases were of 12-year-olds. According to the Pew Research Center, child marriage is more common in the southern United States, including the states of West Virginia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina. California and Nevada have high incidences of child marriage as well.
Some extreme cases of child marriage in the U.S. are:
- In 2010 in Idaho, a 65-year-old man married a 17-year-old girl
- In Alabama, a 74-year-old man married a 14-year-old girl
- In Tennessee, three 10-year-old girls married men ages 24, 25, and 31, respectively.
- The youngest boy to marry was an 11-year-old who married a 27-year-old woman in Tennessee in 2006
U.S. States that Allow Child Marriage
Technically, child marriage is not legal in any U.S. state, since the minimum marriage age in most states is 18, with the aforementioned exceptions having older ages Underaged marriage in the United States is not permitted unless there are exceptional circumstances. These circumstances include the consent of a court clerk or judge, consent of the parents or legal guardians of the minor, if one of the parties is pregnant or has given birth to a child, or if the minor is emancipated.
Four states have banned underage marriages without exception: Minnesota, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As of July 1, 2019, 12 states have no minimum age when all exemptions are taken into account, such as requiring parental consent and a judge's approval. These states are California, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.