Who is Behind the Wedlock: Child Marriage and Parental Consent in the U.S.

Who is Behind the Wedlock: Child Marriage and Parental Consent in the U.S.


By Susie Hedley

Child marriage in the United States refers to a marriage that occurs when at least one of the individuals is under the age of 18.

It is a huge problem in the United States.

Like human trafficking, we know that child marriage is not how we perceive it to be globally and in the media. It doesn’t always consist of arranged marriages in other countries or child brides being sold off.

It’s happening right here at home, and it’s more complicated than it seems.

Every state has a minimum legal marriage age, typically being 18 years old. What is less known is that, in every single state but two, there are laws in place that make it completely legal for a child to get married.

This means that a child can sign on to a legal partnership that determines their finances, mental state, living arrangement, and legality in choice-making, despite being underage.

To be clear, let’s talk about why this is a bad thing. Child marriage is incredibly problematic, especially for young girls, who are the majority of those entering into these marriages.

Between 2000 to 2015 more than 207,468 minors were married in the United States. Ninety percent of them were girls.[1]

The negative consequences of child marriage include halting the progress of children’s education and being detrimental to physical and psychological health. As an example, marrying before the age of 18 can result in clinical depression in that child.[2]

Children do not have the same personal means and freedom as adults. Because of their age, they are in no position to give complete, unconfined, and informed consent, even if they seem to agree.

So how is this allowed? Most of the time, it is through parental consent.

In nearly every state, parents get to decide if their child can marry. The laws differ slightly in each state, with some being harder to stomach than others.

In the state of Indiana, the minimum marriage age is 15 in the case of pregnancy with both parental and judicial consent.

In North Dakota, the minimum age is 16 with parental consent.

In Mississippi, girls at 15 and boys at 17 can get married with parental consent.

And in 23 states, such as West Virginia and Colorado, no minimum age to marry exists when there’s parental and judicial consent.[3]

This all makes child marriage laws in the U.S. less severe than they are in countries like Afghanistan, Honduras, and Malawi.[4]

This list goes on, with each state’s rules and stipulations varying slightly, but all saying the same thing. You can technically be a child, but still legally allowed to get married in the United States.

Not that we see how it exists and why it is negative, we need to look at the people responsible.

We assume that parents have what’s best in mind for their children. But, of course, this is not always the case. Within child marriage, parents are not taking their children’s well-being into consideration, and are oftentimes forcing them into the union.

They may decide to have their children married to ease a financial burden or even as a way to preemptively combat premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, and statutory rape.[5]

For example, it is reported that in the state of Missouri more than 1,000 15-year-olds from 1999-2015 have married statutory rapists with parental consent.[6]

Child marriage has the ability to do irreparable damage to children mentally and physically. It determines children’s entire futures.

Girls are oftentimes pressured into marriages, manipulated through violence, threats and humiliation. And they receive the lasting effects of isolation and loneliness as a result of getting married at such a young age.[7]

Through this lens, we see how child marriage is very similar to human trafficking, in which those trafficked are pawned off and treated as less than human as they are manipulated and forced into situations in which they have no control.

With child marriage, the parents are the ones deciding what to do with their child’s life and body. They become traffickers who take advantage of the power that they have to make their children do what they see fit.

With all this in mind, how can we get rid of child marriage in the U.S.?

Parental consent needs to change. No one should have the power to marry off their child. Marriage should only be legal with consent from the individuals getting married. And individuals should not be legally allowed to get married until they reach the legal minimum age of 18.

It’s important to know that this is an issue in the United States, and to know how it is occurring.

Children are getting married and this can be a form of human trafficking.

As long as these laws are still in place, children will still be entering into partnerships that they are not physically, mentally, or emotionally ready for. And they will do so with their parents standing behind them.



[1] https://humantraffickingcenter.org/in-order-to-eliminate-child-marriage-parental-consent-must-be-abolished/

[2] https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/child-marriage/

[3] https://www.usmarriagelaws.com/marriage-license/west-virginia/county-clerks/office-requirements.shtml

[4]  https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/child-marriage/united-states/

[5] https://humantraffickingcenter.org/in-order-to-eliminate-child-marriage-parental-consent-must-be-abolished/

[6] https://humantraffickingcenter.org/in-order-to-eliminate-child-marriage-parental-consent-must-be-abolished/

[7] https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/child-marriage/

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