Another US state outlaws child marriage

Another US state outlaws child marriage – but advocates are worried

  • Published on
    June 18, 2024
  • Category:
    Forced Marriage
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New Hampshire’s Governor recently signed a new law raising the legal age of marriage in the state to 18. A cause for celebration amongst anti-child marriage organizations and lawmakers who have been advocating on the issue for the last 10 years according to News from New Hampshire. But while children in New Hampshire along with 12 other states are now protected from forced marriage, many other states still provide a haven for those who seek child marriage.

“It opens up a door to human trafficking”

Unchained at Last is a national advocacy organization and one of Freedom United’s partners in lobbying for an end to child marriage across the US. In the lead up to the recent legislative change in New Hampshire the organization reviewed the state’s marriage certificate data and found that, since 2000, more than 200 minors were married in New Hampshire. In celebrating the law’s passage, one of the law’s supporters, Rep. Cassandra Levesque, underlined the link between child marriage and trafficking.

“There are so many problems when it comes to child marriage, it opens up a door to human trafficking. It allows rapists to marry their victims. It allows for girls to basically not get to become the full potential that they can be.”

A patchwork of state laws makes child marriage easy

Since minors often have limited legal rights, marriage leaves them open to abuse and extremely vulnerable to multiple types of exploitation. Children forced to marry cannot file for divorce or sometimes even seek refuge at shelters creating an “impossible legal trap”.

Despite the ongoing work of Unchained at Last and Freedom United among others, currently only 13 states have made child marriage illegal and there’s a tragic side effect for each additional legal win: the places where it is still lawful become havens for those seeking child marriages.

Fraidy Reiss, the founder and Executive Director of Unchained at Last said:

“When one state ends child marriage, often you’ll see in a neighboring state…those numbers increase…I would say a fairly large percentage of the survivors that we work with were not married in the state where they live.”

Advocates say that while progress is being made in states like New Hampshire, it is not happening fast enough since the current patchwork of state laws makes it easy for those who seek a child marriage to simply travel to another state, then return home where more than likely their marriage will be recognized.

“Girls only as safe as the weakest law allows them to be”

Casey Swegman, director of public policy at Tahirih Justice Center feels the only real solution is for every U.S. state and the District of Columbia to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18, with no exceptions. She pointed again to data from Unchained at Last which found in Maine only three minors were married in 2020, but in 2021, the year that Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island and New York made child marriage illegal, that number tripled to nine.

“I think we will unfortunately see more of that, as more states strengthen their laws. And so, it’s important to us that all 50 states get to 18. (that way) no one state, or jurisdiction becomes the ‘destination’ for child marriage.”

As the Freedom United community celebrates this important victory in New Hampshire, we remain focused and will continue building momentum for national change. In the words of one child marriage survivor, “This is a legal situation that we can actually change”, and so, the fight to end child marriage in the US will continue until it is outlawed nationwide, no exceptions. Join the movement today.



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Kiki Lindenau
22 days ago
Reply to  Nylene

Hi Nylene, in New Hampshire with this new law it would be illegal for them to do so and they would have to wait until their 18th birthday.

C E Goodwin-Barnes
C E Goodwin-Barnes
22 days ago

This is an excuse for pedophilia … in the good ole US of A. The same uneducated girls who’s daddy’s vote for trump & it’s sickening! But the USA also executes its citizens & doesn’t provide a free to the point if entry health service isn’t a true democracy it’s ripe for dictatorship as it doesn’t educate its people enough

22 days ago

So what if 2 dating teenagers get pregnant and want to get married. Is this going to be illegal for them?

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