NEW YORK – While child marriage is commonplace in dozens of countries around the world, it has also been a longstanding, though little-noticed, practice in the United States. Some questions and answers about the topic as it attracts the attention of concerned legislators in some states:
Q: What are the laws on child marriage in the United States?
A: Across the U.S., state laws generally set 18 as the minimum age for marriage, yet every state allows some exceptions. Most states let 16- and 17-year-olds marry if they have parental consent, and about a dozen states allow children under 16 to marry if a court official gives approval, often in cases where the girl is pregnant.
Q: How many child marriages occur in the U.S.?
A: Comprehensive national statistics on child marriage are not available. States vary widely in how they compile and disseminate marriage data, and the federal government does not tally child marriages. Virginia is among the states that make some data available. Figures from its Department of Health show that close to 4,000 girls under 18 were married in the state between 2004 and 2013, including more than 200 who were 15 or younger. Those figures are available here: https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/healthstats/documents/2010/pdfs/Bride0413.pdf
Q: Are steps being taken to curtail child marriage in the U.S.?
A: Yes. A bill has been introduced in New York's legislature that would ban all marriages of minors under 18. Similar but less sweeping bills have been introduced in Maryland and Virginia.
A: What's the situation worldwide?
Q: Child marriage is commonplace in dozens of countries around the world, for reasons related to religion, family economics, gender roles and other factors. According to UNICEF, there are more than 700 million women who were married before 18. Numerous studies have concluded that the practice is frequently detrimental to girls' health, education and economic opportunities, and increases their vulnerability to abuse and violence.