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New Hampshire and the endurance of child marriage in the U.S.

  • Published on
    January 9, 2022
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  • Category:
    Anti-Slavery Activists, Forced Marriage, Law & Policy
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Child marriage is legal in most American states

In the U.S., marriage below the age of 18 is only illegal in 6 states. Of the remaining, most will grant marriages to minors if they have parental or judicial approval and 9 have no minimum age requirements at all.

According to Politico,

Though fewer minors marry in the U.S. than in the past, child marriage still happens here. The U.S. Census’ American Community Survey estimated that there were nearly 88,000 married teens ages 15 to 17 nationwide in 2019. An April 2021 study by the activist group Unchained At Last, funded by the Gates Foundation, estimated that 297,000 minors were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, and that 60,000 of them were under their state’s age of sexual consent.

The risk of forced marriage

Advocates say that 80% of underage marriages the minor is a girl marrying an adult several years older.  Married minors find it difficult to get a divorce or stay at a shelter. Child marriage survivors advocating to make it illegal have shared stories of forced marriages that are next to impossible to escape.

One survivor shared, “I was forced to marry a 28-year-old after an engagement of three days. … And then I was taken to the South Pacific for 2 1/2 years. They took my passport.”

At Freedom United, we believe that a legal exception that allows children to marry with parental consent leaves children vulnerable to the risk of forced marriage and coercion from adults. The best way to prevent against forced child marriage is to ban child marriage.

Old enough to get married but not to be taken seriously

Twenty-two-year-old New Hampshire lawmaker, Cassie Levesque, has been campaigning to end child marriage in her Northeastern state since she was a teenaged Girl Scout.

When she first lobbied her local lawmakers to raise the minimum age of marriage, she was dismissed – for being too young. She was told that a century old law couldn’t be changed just to meet “a request from a minor doing a Girl Scout project.”

Though she later managed to get her state to raise the age to 16 – from 13 for girls and 14 for boys – she continues to fight.

Along with our partner, Unchained at Last, and other allies, Freedom United has been pushing for an end to child marriage in the United States. We’re proud to have played a part in adding that sixth state – New York – to the list!

Unchained At Last’s executive director, Fraidy Reiss, thinks a good strategy to pressure New Hampshire is to get all surrounding states to ban child marriage. She told Politico, “… get every state around New Hampshire to end child marriage, and then tell New Hampshire, ‘Now do you want to become the destination site for child marriage?’”

Join the campaign against forced marriage and let’s keep up the pressure to see child marriage banned in all states.


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