US laws have allowed children as young as 12 to get married

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Laws in the United States still allow youths under age 18 to get married, and some of those who marry are as young as 12.

Though most states set 18 as the minimum, exceptions allow minors to marry in some circumstances, such as with approval of parents or judges, or because of a pregnancy, according to the nonprofit Unchained at Last. The group’s executive director, Fraidy Reiss, wrote about the issue in the Washington Post.

During the 10-year period from 2000 to 2010, 167,000 children in the United States got married under age 18, most of them girls, according to the group’s analysis of marriage license data in 38 states. Twelve other states and Washington, D.C., were unable to provide the data on child marriages.

“Despite these alarming numbers,” Reiss writes, “and despite the documented consequences of early marriages, including negative effects on health and education and an increased likelihood of domestic violence, some state lawmakers have resisted passing legislation to end child marriage—because they wrongly fear that such measures might unlawfully stifle religious freedom or because they cling to the notion that marriage is the best solution for a teen pregnancy.”

The refusal to act puts lawmakers at odds with U.S. foreign policy, Reiss says. The U.S. State Department’s U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls calls marriage before age 18 a human rights abuse.

It can be difficult for minors who are forced into marriages to get help because they are considered runaways if they leave home and may not be accepted at many domestic violence shelters. It is also difficult for children to find lawyers because they may not be able to afford attorney fees, and their contracts can be voided, the article says.

Typo in second paragraph, pointed out by commenters, was corrected on Feb. 14.




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