The issue of child marriage in America has recently begun to receive some long overdue attention. For example, a teenage Girl Scout recently made headlines for her capstone Gold Award Project that aimed to raise awareness about child marriage in her home state of New Hampshire. In over 30 states, loopholes allow 16-year-olds to marry with their parents' permission and even younger children can marry with a judge's consent.
Before the passage of the new bill, 16- and 17-year-olds could get married with parental consent and children of any age could marry with judicial approval. Now, it's illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to marry. The only exception is 16- and 17-year-olds who have been legally emancipated from their parents.
“We applaud Texas for closing legal loopholes in its minimum marriage age laws that have put far too many girls at risk, for far too long,” the advocacy group Tahirih Justice Center said in a press release. “Texas had one of the worst child marriage rates in the country, but with this new law, the state is instead at the forefront of the national movement to tackle child marriage in America.”
Although child marriage is relatively rare in America, it's a bigger issue than many people think and it can have devastating consequences. For example, Lyndsy Duet of Texas was forced by her parents to marry her rapist at the age of 17. He physically abused her for eight years before she escaped the marriage.
Girls who get married underage are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk for domestic violence, according to Unicef. They're also more likely to develop mental health problems and live in poverty.
“The reasons [child marriage] occurs may be varied,” Jeanne Smoot of the Tahirih Justice Center told the Huffington Post. “But the commonalities are in the vulnerability of children and their limited options to prevent or escape marriages they don’t want.”
Legislation banning underage marriage needs to pass state by state, but Smoot says "the movement is picking up steam." Over ten states have recently either passed or considered bills banning the practice, and underage marriage laws are simply awaiting governors' signatures in states including New York and Connecticut.
"I think policymakers are coming to the commonsense realization that the status quo is putting girls at risk of serious harm,” Smoot said.