Against their will?

Newly-analyzed data reveals America’s “child marriage problem”

Rose petals lie on the ground at a busy City Clerk's office on December 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In the U.S., the minimum age to marry in most states is 18. But all 50 states allow exceptions that make marriage for those under 18 possible — most commonly, “parental consent” that allows children aged 16 or 17 to marry with their parent’s signature. “Of course, one person’s “parental consent” can be another’s “parental coercion,” argues Fraidy Reiss of Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that helps girls and women escape arranged, forced marriages, in a Op-Ed for the New York Times. A judge can also approve the marriage of a child, lowering the age for those allowed to marry to under 16. Many states do not specify a minimum age, she says, adding, “Judges in those states can allow the marriage even of an elementary school student.”

Reiss’s organization recently investigated data from New Jersey from 1995 to 2012, which showed that 3,499 children were married during that time. Though most were ages 16 or 17 years old, 178 were between 10 and 15 — which means a judge approved their marriages. Some 91 percent of the children were married to adults, including the 2006 marriage of a 10-year-old boy to an 18-year-old woman and a 1996 marriage of a 12-year-old girl to a 25-year-old man. Other data from New York state shows similar marriages. Reiss explains that in the U.S., only 10 states or jurisdictions have laws against forced marriage. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than 700 million women alive today were wed before their 18th birthday and 250 million were married before age 15.

Read the full Op-Ed at the The New York Times.

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