Demonstrators gather in veils and wedding garb at a "Chain-In" at the New Jersey State House in Trenton, New Jersey to protest Gov. Chris Christie's veto Bill A3091. This bill would have made New Jersey the first state in the U.S. to officially end child marriage. According to the nonprofit Unchained At Last @unchainedatlast, who organized the Chain-In, around 3,600 children under the age of 18 were married in New Jersey between 1995 and 2014. Photo by @sophialynnguida #protectgirlsrights #endchildmarriage #tooyoungtowed #unchainedatlast #chainin
That was the conclusion drawn by Jeanne Smoot, the author of a new study on the prevalence of child marriage in the US.
The report found that more than 200,000 children under the age of 18 were married in the US between 2000 and 2015, the majority of which were underage girls marrying adult men, according to the report, released by Tahirih Justice Center.
The marriages frequently took place due to loopholes in states where the legal marrying age is 18 but exceptions can be made with parental or judicial approval. Some of those loopholes allow a child of any age to be married with special approval, and nine states allow for child marriage in the cases of pregnancy.
Read More: New York Has Finally Outlawed Child Marriage
Only three states — Virginia, Texas, and New York — completely limit marriage to adults.
Girls as young as 10 years old were married during the time period in Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee, according to a previous report.
Child marriage is linked to higher rates of maternal and child mortality, domestic violence, and HIV infection, and it also has a higher chance of disrupting a child’s education, according to the report.
The report, Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America, is the first comprehensive analysis of provisions in all 50 states and Washington, DC, that leave children more vulnerable to forced marriage and the harms of early marriage, the Tahirih Justice Center said.
“Most of the children who are married in the US are girls. Their full and healthy development is compromised, and their future opportunities are curtailed. Tahirih’s fight to change state laws is not only about child protection; it’s about girls’ rights and empowerment,” said Smoot.
Global Citizen, in partnership with CHIME FOR CHANGE, campaigns to close legal loopholes and discriminatory laws against girls and women through our #LeveltheLaw campaign.
According to advocates who fight against child marriage, those loopholes need to be closed before more children end up married and in danger.
“From our experience, when a child is forced into a marriage, the perpetrator is almost always the parents,” Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls leave arranged and forced marriages, told the Huffington Post. “But these children are not all coming out of abusive, violent, dysfunctional homes. It’s often parents who think they are doing the best thing for their child.”
Smoot, the author of the report, emphasized that there are ways that states can bring about en end to child marriage.
“With this report, we’re challenging state legislators to move from awareness to action,” she said.