Child Marriage in America is Still Happening

Forced child marriage is a human rights violation. It is a severe impediment to social and economic development. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is well known for its work to end forced child marriage almost all over the world and especially in developing countries.

As part of its programme, the USAID is also promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Let Girls Learn is another initiative of the U.S Government so that more and more girls go to school. The United States, as a leading donor for international development, is playing major role in the global movement to end forced child marriage.

America is Not Free from Child Marriage

The majority among us believes that child marriage is common in developing world. According to the recent report published by The Economist, one in three girls marry before the age of 18 and if this ratio continues then the figure may reach to 1.2 billion by 2050. African states are on the top of the list in the top 20 spots ranking of child marriage.

U.S. diplomats are active in trying to ban child marriage outside of America, yet within the United States, children are still permitted to marry because of the exceptions provided to them by their state. No American state has passed a law that categorically forbids the practice.

Child marriage has a long and vibrant history in the United States. In the U.S. the general age of marriage is 18, however, the minimum age of marriage varies from state to state. It is because in the United States, the marriageable age is the issue of state law, not federal law. Activists are continuously raising their voices and urging the legislators to increase the age of consent to marriage.

Child Marriage Isn’t Even Rare

Every state in the U.S. allows relaxation in the general age of marriage due to parental consent, judicial consent, pregnancy or the combination of these. So, after taking into account all these exceptions we come to understand that the U.S. has no minimum age requirement.

Instead of boys, the vast majority of marrying minors are girls. This has been the pattern throughout U.S. history. Between 2000 and 2015, about 87% of child marriages in the U.S. involved underage girls, while 13% involved underage boys.

In February 2017, new data by Girls Not Brides member Unchained at Last revealed that over 248,000 children had been married in the United States between 2000 and 2010, mostly to adult men.

The laws related to child marriage worldwide are tougher than America. The Human Rights Watch pointed out that in Afghanistan girls can marry at 16, or at 15 with a permission from their father or a judge, while in 25 U.S. states there is no minimum marriage age if all the other conditions are met.

Helplessness in Ending Child Marriage in America

Though the U.S. Government is actively working to stop child marriage all over the world, it seems helpless to stop it in its own country. There are many reasons behind that fact. First of all, the laws relating to child marriage in America are not so strong in the states where they are present and applicable. While in 25 U.S. states there is no minimum marriageable age requirement at all.

Secondly, this issue is favored politically to protect the religious traditions and customs. In their view, child marriage can stop birth out of wed-lock. Thirdly, if a girl gets pregnant then her parents allow the minor marriage to secure their child’s interest.

We all are fully aware that children, especially girls, are more likely to suffer from domestic violence, sexual abuse, marital rape, poor health, illiteracy and then some. Children don’t have mature minds and they lack the power of decision making. They are not ready to take responsibilities as parents, and they are unaware of the sensitivity of relationships. As a result, child marriages end in divorce 70-80% more often as compared to adult marriages.

To end child marriage internationally, it is necessary for the U.S. Government to end it in its own country first. There is an urgent need to change and amend the state laws regarding child marriage.

About Jawaria A. Kashif

Jawaria lives in Pakistan and is an advocate/human rights activist. She writes on legal and social issues.

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