Stop forced child marriage in the U.S. - FreedomUnited.org

Stop forced child marriage in the U.S.

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With a growing movement across the United States, momentum is building to abolish child marriage, a step that would help prevent forced child marriage. With no national law banning child marriage, twelve states have passed laws to eliminate child marriage without exceptions since 2018, and now, seven additional states are considering similar legislation.1

Banning child marriage by raising the minimum legal age to 18 increases protection and empowers possible victims to resist pressure to be married, makes it clear to those considering coercing children into marriage that they are committing a crime, and ensures that when they do marry they do so with access to the full spectrum of legal rights. Thus, it strengthens resilience against forced child marriage. 

Child marriage and modern slavery 

Forced child marriage is a pressing issue that disproportionately affects girls, placing them at significant risk of exploitation and forced marriage. Whilst not all child marriages are forced, the inherent vulnerability of children, particularly girls, makes them susceptible to coercion. Forced child marriage is identified by several key indicators: the lack of free and informed consent from the child; the presence of abuse and exploitation akin to “ownership,”; and the child’s inability to escape the marriage.2

“The fact that a parent consents to a marriage in no way means that that marriage is consensual.” – Fraidy Reiss, Founder and Executive Director of Unchained At Last and survivor of child marriage.3

Victims may face physical and sexual abuse, domestic servitude, restrictions on their free movement, and a profound loss of autonomy. Control over these young girls is often exerted through violence, threats, and humiliation, leaving them feeling powerless to leave their marriages safely.4

At 16, Sherry Johnson sought a divorce through an attorney but wasn’t old enough. Even though courts may allow children to marry, minors like her often lack the legal capacity to file for divorce – leaving them trapped in their marriages with no way out of abuse and exploitation.  

 “You are considered old enough to marry, but not old enough to get out.” – Sherry Johnson, survivor of forced child marriage.5

Why raise the minimum age?  

The push to outlaw child marriage adds a layer of legal protection from this form of modern slavery.6 By criminalizing the act of child marriage, claims by perpetrators of the absence of coercion are no justification. Once a child reaches 18, they are legally independent, better empowered to resist coercion, and entitled to access services such as shelters, and legal support. 

The argument for raising the marriage age to 18 rests on the belief that those who truly consent to marriage would not object to waiting until they are legally adults, suggesting that such a measure could save thousands from exploitation and abuse under the guise of marriage.  

“We can celebrate those who followed a teenage love affair into a decades-long marriage while simultaneously acknowledging that marriage is much, much more than a love story. It is a contract, too, a contract that should be entered into by consenting adults.” – Fraidy Reiss.7

Campaign focus on the United States  

At least 300,000 children were married in the United States between 2000 and 2018. It is estimated that 78% were underage girls (below 18 years) married to men who were adults (18 years or older).8 Precise data on child marriages is not available, and no statistics are available on the prevalence of forced child marriage in the United States, suggesting just how little attention this issue has received. 

However, there is growing legislative momentum in the United States to outlaw child marriage without exceptions, which would strengthen protection from forced child marriage.  

By concentrating our efforts in the U.S., we aim to not only protect children within its borders but also move the U.S. to meet the global standards on ending forced child marriage it eschews in foreign policy. In the past, we campaigned for the same cause in England and Wales – and were successful! On April 27, 2022, the U.K. banned child marriage without exceptions in England and Wales by passing the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill. It is time for the U.S. to act. 

“One child married is too many. Forced or not, it sets people up for devastating short- and long-term consequences, and in fact, delaying marriage to 18 or beyond will set all people up to be better off.” – Casey Swegman, Director of Public Policy of Tahirih Justice Center.9

Make sure to also check out our general campaign to end forced child marriages all around the world 

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.unchainedatlast.org/laws-to-end-child-marriage/
  2. https://www.freedomunited.org/landing/forced-child-marriage/
  3. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/child-marriage-ban-proposed-in-new-hampshire-again/ar-BB1hFTec
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30747055/
  5. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/12/24/america-women-and-girls-forced-into-marriage
  6. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_norm/@ipec/documents/publication/wcms_854733.pdf
  7. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2024/02/02/metro/child-marriage-bill-new-hampshire-change-age-13-14-16-18/
  8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2021.07.001
  9. https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/effort-to-end-child-marriages-in-virginia-going-to-house-floor-for-a-vote/3540291/
  • April 11, 2024: The Missouri Senate passed SB 767, almost unanimously! We are on a great path to ending child marriage!

  • April 9, 2024: And one more! Virginia is the 12th U.S. state to ban child marriage without exceptions. Virginia is the first Southern state to enforce this ban.

  • March 07, 2024: Great news! Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee signed bill HB 1455 into law on the final day of the 2024 legislative session. Hereby, all child marriages under the age of 18 are prohibited, making forced child marriage a crime.

  • March 07, 2024: The New Hampshire Senate unanimously passed SB 359 which promises to end child marriage before the age of 18. The bill now awaits action in the House and we are building more resilience against forced child marriages.

  • Mar 07, 2024: Campaign Launches

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Madeleine Hanlon
Madeleine Hanlon
1 month ago

Hard to believe in 2024 that this isn’t law in all 50 states!!!!

Beulah Okonkwo
Beulah Okonkwo
25 days ago

Disgusting practice! Nothing but pedophiles prying on young children!

Kersi Rustomji
Kersi Rustomji
1 month ago

This is a chauvinistic male imposed social behavior, to maintain their dominance over the women in their society. It must be completely eradicated in all societies that continue to practice it.
Kersi Rustomji

Arthur Grech
14 days ago

Child marriage should be abolished, any adult male who practices child marriage should have a mandatory prison term of no less than 10 to 15 years in prison. This is pedophilia and against the law.

Stephen Hopkins
Stephen Hopkins
14 days ago

I’m amazed that this practice still continues anywhere in the western world.

Stop forced child marriage in the U.S.

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Help us reach 5,000

I am calling on U.S. lawmakers to support bills that would end child marriage without exception, as a means of building resilience against forced marriage, which is recognized as a form of modern slavery.

Whilst not all child marriages are forced, and adults are also victims, children are particularly vulnerable to being coerced into marriage. Then they can be subjected to physical abuse, labor, and sexual exploitation, and find it nearly impossible to leave.

Making child marriage illegal is an important step towards empowering children to stand against coercion and seek safety from authorities to better protect them from forced marriage.

The time is now!

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