Five out of Every Thousand: Why “Child Marriage” Is Not As Uncommon In the United States As You’d Think
According to a report by Frontline published last year more than 200,000 minors were married in the United States between the years 2000 and 2015. The practice appears to be most common in states with large rural populations. Frontline reports that nearly 90% of minors who married in the United States were girls, though that statistic does not appear consistent among different studies. Most minors who marry are 16 or 17 years old; however, between 2000 and 2015, children as young as 12 were given marriage licenses in some states. Many of these marriages occurred between two teenagers, but many more (at least several hundred) minors were legally permitted to marry adults over the age of 40.
Several groups are currently lobbying, in several states, to amend laws allowing marriage of children under 18 years old to make it illegal in any circumstance. In the last few years, lawmakers in 11 states proposed measures to raise the minimum marriage age. Connecticut banned marriage for children younger than 16 in June 2017, and New York raised the minimum marriage age from 14 to 17.
California attempted to ban marriage before the age of 18 with no exceptions, but the bill did not pass. California experienced pushback from several different groups concerned about intruding on fundamental rights of marriage, eliminating a way for minors to exit foster care through emancipation, and having children out of wedlock. The bill was subsequently amended to set stricter rules for judges asked to grant permission of a marriage of a minor, but supporters of the original bill argue that the amended bill may do more harm than good.
According to a study done in 2016 by the Pew Research Center, child marriage is most common in West Virginia and Texas, and in 2014, seven out of every 1,000 American children in those states aged 15 to 17 were married.
Per the Pew Research Center, Nevada has a higher than average rate for child marriage. The average rate across the United States is 4.6 per every 1,000 minors. Nevada’s rate is 5.9 per every 1,000 minors. Per the Washington Post, 27 states do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry (with parental and judicial consent). Nevada is one of them.