Child marriage breakthrough as Delaware becomes first US state to close loopholes

Unchained At Last Protest About Us Child Marriage
Unchained At Last founder Fraidy Reiss at a demonstration against child marriage (Facebook / Unchained At Last,

Child marriage, Girls' education, Right to education

Early marriage often means girls drop out of school and are at risk of health problems and abuse - so the decision has been greeted as "historic" by campaigners.

It was called America’s “dirty secret” by Human Rights Watch. But hopes are rising that child marriage could be on its way out in the United States.

Delaware yesterday became the first US state to ban all marriages under the age of 18 – with the law taking effect immediately. 

“I’m hoping states throughout the nation will join us,” said state Representative Kim Williams, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is a significant moment for girls. This is historic,” said Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, a non-profit group opposed to child marriage.

“This is such an emotional moment. For me it’s such a personal victory – both because of my personal experience and because of the many girls who have reached out to Unchained At Last.”

Campaigners say children who are married young tend to leave school early. They are at greater risk of abuse, have more health issues in in pregnancy and childbirth, and are poorer than those who marry when they’re older.

Unchained At Last said about 170,000 under-18s were married between 2000 and 2010 in 38 US states where data was available. The Public Broadcasting Service said an analysis for its Frontline show revealed that more than 207,000 people under 18 were wed in the US between 2000 and 2014 – some of them as young as 12.

Apart from Delaware, the 49 other states have legal loopholes that allow minors to marry under 18, including with parental consent or a judge’s approval.

Over the past three years, many states have looked at banning child marriage. Florida considered bill setting a minimum age of 18 but eventually opted for 17. New Jersey has a bill to end child marriage going through its state legislature.

In May, New Hampshire passed a bill to raise the marriage age from 13 for girls and 14 for boys to 16 for both genders.

Reiss said: “Almost two dozen states have rejected or watered down legislation. This is a vestige of the past that we need to let go of – and legislators were having a tough time doing that.”

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