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Girls & Women

Delaware, New Jersey Are About to Ban Child Marriage, a First in US

Will the First State be the first state in the US to finally ban child marriage?

On Thursday, Delaware’s Senate unanimously passed a bill to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18 without exception, NPR reported. All that is needed now is for Gov. John Carney to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do.

Delaware is one of 22 states in which exceptions to the official minimum marriage age of 18 allow children to be married at any age, according to the nonprofit Unchained At Last. Currently, there is no minimum age for marriage for a pregnant child in Delaware and children under the age of 18 can marry with parental consent.

Take Action: Tell world leaders to stop child marriage for good

Between 2000 and 2017, more than 200 minors were married in Delaware, NPR reported — 90% of them were girls younger than 18 who married adult men.

"We're leaving girls with no protections," the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Kim Williams, said. "I don't want children to have to make a decision about marriage until they're 18."

But Delaware isn’t the first state to come this close to banning child marriage. Similar bills have recently been considered in Arizona, Florida, and Tennessee, and while some states strengthened their laws as a result of the bills, none succeeded in banning child marriage. 

According to the nonprofit Unchained At Last, Thursday’s vote puts Delaware neck and neck with New Jersey in the race to be the first to outlaw child marriage.

The Garden State nearly became the first state to ban child marriage last year after both its House and Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of the measure; however, then Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the groundbreaking bill.

Until either Gov. John Carney or Christie’s successor, Gov. Phil Murphy, signs one of these bills, child marriage remains legal in some form in all 50 states. The Tahirih Justice Center estimates that some 200,000 children were married in the US between 2000 and 2015—the majority of these children are girls.

Read more:More Than 78,400 Children in the US Were Married Between 2010 and 2014

Globally, 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, according to Girls Not Brides. While West and Central Africa have the highest rates of child marriage, India is home to the largest number of married children in the world, UNICEF reported.

Girls who are married underage are often forced to drop out of school, care for families, and bear children while they are still children themselves, meaning they lose out on the chance to realize their full potential.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of women’s rights and access to education. You can take action here to call on world leaders to end child marriage and empower girls around the world.