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Tennessee Just Took a Big Step Toward Ending Child Marriage

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill on Monday ensuring that children under the age of 17 will no longer be allowed to get married in the state.

The new law falls short of the ambitions of the initial bill, introduced in February, which called for the minimum marriage age to be set at 18 without exceptions. But it could still protect dozens of children from being forced into early marriages in Tennessee every year.

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

Though the minimum age of marriage in the “Volunteer State” was technically already set at 18, exceptions to the law previously allowed children to be married at any age with parental consent and the permission of a judge or county mayor.

Tennessee had the sixth highest rate of child marriage in the US in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. And more than 8,000 children were married in the state over the last two decades, PBS Frontline reported, some as young as 10.

In addition to setting the minimum marriage age firmly at 17, the new legislation prohibits anyone under 18 from marrying a person who is four or more years older.

The law also recognizes married minors as adults, meaning that a married 17-year-old now has the right to file for divorce, but does not extend this status to constitutional and statutory age minimums for things such as voting and consuming alcohol. By granting married minors the same rights as adults, the law empowers children trapped in marriages to enter domestic violence shelters, open bank accounts in their own names, hire lawyers, and get divorces — an important step toward preventing minors from having to depend on their abusers.

So far, only Delaware has successfully banned child marriage. The “First State” made history earlier this month by raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 without exceptions. Though many other states, including Arizona and Florida, have considered similar bills, the proposals were amended to include loopholes and lower age minimums.

Read more: Delaware Is the First State Ever to Ban Child Marriage

Child marriage is a harmful practice that disproportionately affects girls across the US and around the world. Thousands of children in the US face pressure to marry before they are ready every year, and the majority of those children are girls, PBS Frontline reported. Globally, 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, according to Girls Not Brides.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of gender equality and women’s rights. You can take action here to call on lawmakers to put an end to child marriage and protect women and girls everywhere.