Children As Young As 12 Are Being Married in the US

When you think about child marriage, you may think of shock campaigns featuring terrified, traumatized girls in the developing world forced into marriage with men and boys who are sometimes much older. You probably don’t think of the United States. Maybe it’s time to think again.

June is wedding season, with people across the nation celebrating nuptials, and it’s also the start of summer — school’s out, and kids are hitting the pool, playing at the beach, and going to summer camp. Some children, however, don’t get to have that experience, because kids as young as 12, usually girls, are being forced into marriages by their families. According to advocacy group Unchained At Last, as many as 250,000 children may be married in the United States right now.

Some of the rhetoric that surrounds child marriage is racist, xenophobic, and sometimes Islamophobic. You may have heard that it’s something “they” do, with an abstract gesture at nations primarily populated by people of color. You might hear it in the context of official government efforts to end the practice targeting the rest of the world, not us. You may also have heard that Muslim and Hindu women and girls are “forced” into abusive arranged marriages. In fact, child marriage affects people of all faiths and races, all over the world, and it’s far from a “third world problem.”

The New York Times recently documented cases of child marriage across the U.S. that tend to have similar themes: Victims are often young women, and they may be forced into marriage because a relationship resulted in a pregnancy, or because they were raped. Girls are sometimes forced to marry their rapists in an attempt to suppress investigation and prosecution of the crime.

This often takes place in the context of conservative Christian households and communities, which can be very insular. Some believe that girls need to be punished for sexual activity, or that communities need to take charge of their own — thus, a pastor who rapes a member of the congregation should be dealt with by the church, not the law.

How does this happen? Don’t states ban marriage for underage people? Well, yes, they do. But most have exceptions, allowing people to marry with parental or judicial consent, and these exceptions are exploited by adults charged with caring for children who instead choose to sentence them to an underage marriage.

Many children are not aware of their rights, or fear speaking out because they or their siblings may experience retaliation. Once married, divorce is costly. They may not view it as a viable option either, due to their religious beliefs or fear of censure by their communities. For example, if a child bride separates from an Orthodox Jewish husband she’s considered “dead” for the purposes of her community.

Fraidy Reiss, an activist who married young and struggled to get out, tells Human Rights Watch there are unexpected challenges when it comes to helping child brides. For example, if you rescue a young girl from her home, you may be accused of kidnapping because she’s a minor. In some states, child brides have no legal rights because they’re underage, so they can’t even bring lawsuits. The only way to help them, Reiss argues, is to change the law.

It is possible to end child marriage in the United States. Several states are already doing so with legislation to eliminate loopholes that allow people to exploit children, like New Jersey’s A3091, which nearly passed — until the governor said it might violate religious freedoms.

But we need your help.

Take Action

Please sign our petition, and reach out to your state lawmakers to ask them to take action on this issue. Ask them to unilaterally ban marriage and civil unions for minors — and if they bring up religious freedom, tell them no reasonable god should mind waiting a few years to let children grow up.

Photo credit: Unsplash.

156 comments

Bill E
Bill Eagle2 days ago

Disgusting. One wonders who would support predators like Roy Moore or Donald Trump.

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Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Anne M
Anne Mabout a month ago

sad to fear about this...:-((

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Anne M
Anne Mabout a month ago

hear, I meant.

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Kimberly Wallace
Kimberly Wallaceabout a month ago

Sad

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Clare O
Clare O1 months ago

Should be no exceptions

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Aaron F
Past Member 1 months ago

Because we talk about it and do nothing to stop it...often a matter of separation of church and state....

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson1 months ago

@Ray S---I would suggest you read some History! The world has always been a struggle, but it is getting better for people, especially women and minorities--Today is the best time in the history of the world to be alive! Don't talk to me about your incestuous Bible--commanding a woman be stoned to death on her fathers doorstep, if she is not a virgin on her wedding night! Where in the Hell do you think these men got the idea of marrying little girls--From their Holy Books--just like Slavery, stoning for working on the Sabbath, killing disobedient children, and I could go on until I run out of space and then some more! The problem is Religion and taking this Bible absolutely literally! Crazy Religious Fundamentalist, living exactly the word of their God in their Holy Books, of every Faith, are the most repressed, sexually deviant, completely evil people on the face of the Earth! There is no limit to the atrocities they will commit in the name of their imaginary deity. Don't make me give you a list of the Devoutly Religious and their slimiest deeds, or we would be here all day long and then some! And I would rather a man marry his computer than kill all the men and boys in a city, plus all pregnant women(sword abortions) and keep all the little girls and young virgin women as forced wives and sex slaves and concubines like your Bible states!

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Carl R
Carl R1 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 months ago

TYFS

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