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    Tuesday, June 26, 2018

    The State of Child Marriage in the US

    Photo by: Getty Images / CBS News
          The portrayal of child marriages is usually seen an issue in the developing nations. One cannot wrap their mind around the fact, that this very act would be a problem in the United States, and it is acceptable and legal under certain parameters. Many Americans tend to think that the issue of child marriage is a practice that infiltrated the US through immigration. However, this is not the case as even with immigration taking place in the 1910’s and 1920’s, white children born of US parents were still married off as minors.
             The fight against child marriages in the US dates back to the mid-19th century. Women Rights Activists such as Elizabeth Oakes Smith and Elizabeth Cady Stanton noted that child marriages are great lifelong mistakes that deprived young girls the opportunity to develop into womanhood and have some semblance of independence before getting married.
        Compared to other parts of the world although child marriages are less common in the US, but are still in existence. A research by Pew reveals that 34 states in the US allow 16 and 17-year-olds to get married with parental permission. While eight US states enable 15-year-olds or younger to marry if they are pregnant or have given birth as reported by the Star.
          An alarming report from Girls not Brides revealed that 248,000 children were married off between the year 2000 and 2010 most of them to adult men. More disturbing is that some of the children as young as ten years were married off in the US-based on conservative religious beliefs, accounts of rape ordeals and early pregnancy with a parental and judicial consent granted. Although the US government explicitly states that, a minor is anyone under the age of 18. Most states have set the minimum marriage age at 18 years. Except for Nebraska and Mississippi states that have set the marriage age at 19 and 21 respectively.  However, exceptions are there in all states that allow minors to get married. While certain states like Alabama have state legislatures, where the minimum age at which one can marry is 16 years.  Despite, most states have increased the marriage age, but still there is a loophole as most of the states are yet to set a minimum age of 18 with no exceptions law.
             A report from Child International 2015 noted that children in poor and rural settings are more prone to early marriages as compared to their peers from wealthier backgrounds and those that live in the urban areas. Early marriage although deemed as a means of solving problems such as rape ordeals or teen pregnancies but often it results into more problems such as domestic violence, a life of poverty, lack of education and serious complications during pregnancy.  Some of the states, which have reported high numbers of child marriages, are West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Nevada, and California.
         Divorce is no option for minors who opt for it, proving to be a challenge for most of them.  Thus, forcing many of them to stay in these marriages.  As minors are legally incapable of filling for divorce, setting up home alone due to financial constraints or seeking support services independently as they may need to be in the company of an adult. While most of them may not have privy of the existence of such services or are under duress to speak up. 
         There have been debates in the political spear on whether to ban early marriages. With the conservative religious and libertarians arguing that marriage should be a personal choice and the state should interfere. They maintain that child marriages reduce the number of single mothers on welfare and that religious beliefs and customs ought to persevere.
          Despite the raging debates, the US government has been on the forefront to end child marriages in the US. With states such as Delaware spearheading the move, as it recently became the first state to ban child marriages entirely. Other states such as the Mid-Western state of Missouri, which is famed as wedding hotspot for child brides, have also moved a step forward to ban marriage for anyone under the age of 16. However, the push to ban child marriages has proved not easy. The state of New Jersey recently had its bid to ban child marriage thwarted after following a last-minute religious objection to passing the bill.  Other states that have the bill to outlaw child marriages pending include California, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.
    By: Mauryne Abwao

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