When most people think about child marriages, they tend to assume its only happening in other parts of the world, not here in America. But unfortunately, child marriages are fairly common throughout the U.S.
And they’re not unique to just one particular religious group. It's occurring amongst those who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, as well as secular (non-religious) communities.
Fraidy Reiss is the founder and executive director of "Unchained At Last," a nonprofit organization that helps women and girls escape arranged and forced marriages. She is working to pass legislation to end child marriage in the United States.
Many girls and women right here in the U.S. are pressured, tricked, threatened or beaten into marriage. Marriage for them might mean a lifetime of rape, abuse and domestic servitude. And divorce might seem impossible to them due to social customs and religious laws.
"Unchained At Last" collected marriage license data from 2000-2010, and found that in 38 states, over 167,000 children were married during this time period. Most of them were girls as young as 12 who were married to men 18 or older. The organization estimates that the total number of children wed throughout all 50 states during this time is close to 248,000 children.
27 states have no minimum age requirements for marriage, meaning a child of any age could technically marry with court approval.
Let's look at the state of Idaho for example. In Idaho, it's illegal for a person 18-years-old or older to have sex with a child 16 or younger. But from 2000-2010, the state allowed 55 girls under the age of 16 to marry men who were over the age of 18. This is a conflicting trend in many states.
Thankfully, some states are taking steps to end child marriage. In 2016, Virginia passed a new law increasing the minimum marriage age to 18. Before this law was established, 13-year-old girls could legally marry if they were pregnant and had parental consent.
And on Tuesday, June 20th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to end child marriage in the state of New York. The legislation raises the age of consent from 14 to 18-years-old.
Advocates are hoping lawmakers in other states will also sign legislation to end child marriage within the U.S. According to Fraidy Reiss, “We cannot solve the child marriage problem globally if we don’t first solve it here in the United States.”