Early marriage DESTROYS girls’ lives

Pervasive, Legal, Catastrophic

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Child marriage in the USA

Child marriage happens HERE!

Only twelve states have
outlawed child marriage

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Frequency of child marriage

Nearly 300,000 children

As young as age 10

Nearly 300,000 children—a few as young as 10—were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018.

That was one of the key findings of an Unchained At Last study released in April 2021 on the extent of child marriage in the U.S. Other findings included:

    • Some 60,000 marriages since 2000 occurred at an age, or with a spousal age difference, that should have constituted a sex crime under the relevant state’s laws.
    • 96% of the children married were age 16 or 17, typically not old enough to file for divorce or enter a domestic violence shelter.
    • Most of the minors who married were girls wed to adult men an average of four years older.

child marriages in the USA Are:

Mostly GIRLS

In the U.S. and across the world, child marriage and forced marriage disproportionately affect girls and women. Some 86% of the children who married were girls, and most were wed to adult men (age 18 or older). The average spousal age of girls who married was four years, whereas when boys married, their average spousal age was less than half that—1.5 years.

Graphic courtesy of Unchained At Last.
Independent Research on Child Marriage in USA

Child marriage is a REALLY BIG problem in the USA

Each state sets its own legislation for marriage laws.

Federal laws do not even prevent “trafficking” of child brides”…

NO minimum AGE

Many states do NOT have a minimum age for child marriage. Currently, only Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania Rhode Island and New York outlaw marriage before 18 with no exceptions. (More on state laws). See the common exceptions that allow for marriage below the legal age below*

    • No divorce rights 
    • No ability to file a protective order
    • No ability to go to a domestic violence shelter

Children in the U.S. typically are not allowed to initiate a legal proceeding in their own name. This means, in many states, children can be entered into marriages, typically by a parent or guardian, with little or no say from them – and then they are not allowed to file for divorce or annulment in their own name or even to seek a protective order.

A loophole in federal immigration law resulted in more than 5,000 cases of adults petitioning for visas on behalf of minors and nearly 3,000 cases of minors seeking to bring in older spouses or fiances, and enabled child marriages for children as young as 14 over a 10-year period, according to a report released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in January.

How to know if there is true consent

When a marriage is “arranged” and the bride and groom get the option to say no, they might face intense pressure from their families and society, or they might be too young and inexperienced to make such a life-altering decision. They might be rushed to give an answer before they can fully think through their options. They might be bribed or tricked. They might be grappling with implicit and/or explicit threats about the harms that will befall them and their families if they do not agree to a marriage. They might be subjected to actual violence: locked up, beaten or shunned until they say yes. More…

You see the problem…

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Common Exception 1: Parental Consent

In most states, children age 16 or 17 can marry if their parents sign the marriage license application. Obviously, one child’s parental consent is another child’s parental coercion, but state laws do not call for anyone to ask the children whether they are being pressured into marriage. Even when a girl sobs openly while her parents sign the application and force her into marriage, the clerk has no authority to intervene.

Common Exception 2: Judicial Permission

In many states, judicial approval lowers the marriage age below 16, and many states do not specify a minimum age below which a judge may not approve a child marriage. Typically, states allow judges to approve marriages for couples whose ages or age differences should trigger a statutory rape charge, not a marriage license. Most states do not provide guidelines and procedures for judges.


Graphic courtesy of Unchained At Last.

Unchained at Last requested marriage-age data, based on marriage certificates, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Specifically, Unchained asked for de-identified data on the ages and genders of all people married in the state, along with their spouse’s age and gender, in each year since 2000.

Unchained received marriage certificate data from 32 states—though some states’ data included obvious gaps that mean the findings are most certainly an undercount—partial data from 12 states and D.C., and no data from six states. Read more about the study’s methodology and data.

Graphic courtesy of Unchained At Last.