Child Marriage – Legal in Every State

The minimum marriage age in in most US states is 18, but exceptions in every state allow those younger than 18 to marry. How much younger? Laws in 26 states do not set a minimum age below which a child cannot marry.

COMMON EXCEPTION #1: PARENTAL CONSENT

In most states, children age 16 or 17 can marry if their parents sign the marriage license application. Obviously, one child’s parental consent is another child’s parental coercion, but state laws do not call for anyone to ask the children whether they are being pressured into marriage. Even when a girl sobs openly while her parents sign the application and force her into marriage, the clerk has no authority to intervene.

COMMON EXCEPTION #2: JUDICIAL APPROVAL

In many states, judicial approval lowers the marriage age below 16, and many states do not specify a minimum age below which a judge may not approve a child marriage. Typically, states allow judges to approve marriages for couples whose ages or age differences should trigger a statutory-rape charge, not a marriage license.

A GLOBAL PROBLEM

Across the world, like in the US, child marriage and forced marriage disproportionately affect girls and women. Globally, 88 percent of countries set 18 as the minimum marriage age, but 52 percent of countries allow girl children to marry with parental consent. As a result, more than 700 million women alive today around the world – and more than one in four young women – were married as children, including some 250 million who wed before 15. Most live in South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa.

But too many live right here in the US.

Learn more about child marriage in America and globally from Human Rights Watch.