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Girls & Women

Texas Finally Outlawed Child Marriage — But a Loophole Still Exists

A woman protests against underage marriages.
Sunday Alamba/AP

In Texas, a new state law in effect last month offers the possibility of seriously curtailing the practice of child marriage. But even this law, which set a legal marriage “floor” of 16 and requires judicial approval of marriages for minors between 16 and 18, won’t end the practice completely, experts warn

This is because of a loophole called the “court-emancipation process,” which says that minors who legally emancipate themselves from parental control can still marry. 

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Campaigners at Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that campaigns for the end of child marriage in the US, warn that this loophole will still create a situation where parents can pressure children into child marriage. 

“While the new marriage-age law in Texas is a positive step, we ... are concerned that it limits, rather than ends, child marriage,” Fraidy Rice, the executive director and founder of Unchained, told indy100. “Parents who are determined to force a child into marriage can use the new loophole to force the child to emancipate and then to marry.” 

Between 2000 and 2015, more than 200,000 children under the age of 18 were married in the United States, 87% of whom were girls, PBS reports

child marriage us stats.jpg

These numbers include at least three 10-year-old girls married in the state of Tennessee in 2001, the youngest children to legally marry during that time. 

In 2012, the International Center for Research on Women estimated that more than 70 million women around the world had been married before the age of 18. 

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Virginia, previously among the states with the highest rates of child marriage, recently passed a law to limit child marriage — to relative, but not overwhelming, success. 

Its law, passed in 2016, bars child marriage in all cases outside the court-emancipation loophole. Whereas an average of 450 children were married each year between 2004 and 2013 in that state, since the law passed last July, just 36 children have been married, according to Rice.   

“Right now, marriage before 18 remains legal in all 50 US states, including Texas, even though the US State Department considers such marriage a 'human rights abuse,'” Rice added. 

Nine US states — Oklahoma, Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Florida — allow pregnancy exceptions to the marriage age, which, the Washington Post reports, “have been used to cover up rape and to force girls to marry their rapists.” 

child marriageImage: A young actress plays the role of Giorgia, 10, forced to marry Paolo, 47, during a happening organized by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage, on October 27, 2016 in Rome. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

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Other states still allow children to marry with parental consent. 

Half of all US states allow children to be married, under certain exceptions, to minors of any age, while the other half of states have set a minimum marriage age — a “marriage floor” — often at 16, according to Teen Vogue

The negative health, educational, and socioeconomic effects of child marriage are well-documented. These include a higher risk for child brides to suffer from heart attack, diabetes, cancer or stroke; a 50% higher chance of dropping out of high school; and a higher likelihood of experiencing “economic deprivation and instability.”

Global Citizens campaigns for an end to child marriage around the world, including in the United States, through the Level the Law campaign. You can take action here