Advocates and child marriage survivors gather on the steps of Massachusetts’ State House to call for an end to child marriages in Boston, Massachusetts. — AFP/File The statistics from Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that assists women and girls in forced marriages show that between 2000 and 2018, over 300,000 children and teenagers were legally married in the United States.
Legislation banning underage marriage has had difficulty passing. There are just ten states where it is illegal for minors to be married.
There is opposition to making 18 the legal age of marriage from both conservative and progressive quarters.
In order to escape her busy family life, Genevieve Meyer started hanging out with a neighbour when she was fourteen years old.
Her friendship with the 42-year-old father of two who had recently divorced quickly developed into a sexual one. When Meyer’s mother eventually learned, she contacted the authorities.
In the end, the neighbour and Meyer’s mother agreed that the youngster and Meyer would get married in order to have any criminal accusations against them dismissed.
Meyer’s mother would receive a portion of the neighbor’s tree-trimming earnings in exchange.
When her mother informed Meyer, now 43, about the arrangement, she was taken aback.
“My immediate response was 14-year-olds don’t get married,” Meyer said. “But I was wrong.”
The organisation used information from marriage certificates to compute these figures.
Unchained at Last claims that although children as young as 10 have been coerced into marriage, the majority of those minors were 16 or 17 years old when they were married.
Before turning 18, girls are significantly more likely than boys to get married. According to the organisation, of all the minors who got married between 2000 and 2018, 86% were girls and 14% were boys. The majority of the girls wed grown men.
“This is happening every day,” said Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last. “And some of the reasons are because of these outdated, archaic and dangerous laws that encourage this.”
Up until 2017, it was permitted to be married before turning 18 in all 50 states. Since then, laws against the practice have been passed in ten states.
Delaware became the first state to outlaw child marriage in 2018 when they approved legislation raising the legal age of marriage to 18.
New Jersey soon after, and ever since, the legal age of marriage has been raised to 18 in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and most recently, Michigan.
However, according to Tahirih Justice Centre, an organisation that works to safeguard women and children facing gender-based violence, more than half of US states still permit 16- and 17-year-olds to get married with parental agreement.