When one thinks of child marriage, they often think of a girl in sub-Saharan Africa being sold for cattle or a burka clad teenager marrying a tribal leader in Afghanistan. When child marriage is brought up, it’s usually by determined NGOs in email campaigns.
It does happen, however, in the United States.
Over 200,000 minors were married between 2000 and 2015, though that number is in no way certain. The youngest was 10 years old, an age where you’re supposed to be in elementary school.
For nearly every issue in the United States, legislation is mainly created at state level. Child marriage is no exception to this rule.
13 of the 50 states have no minimum age for marriage. Although 16 and 18 are the most common ages set by the state, minors can get around this requirement by seeking judicial approval with loopholes such as pregnancy and legal emancipation.
The opposition to a minimum marriage age has come from across the political spectrum. An attempt in California to set the age to 18 faced opposition from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Chris Christie denied a similar bill in New Jersey, citing concerns about religious rights being violated.
In most countries where there is a centralised political structure, setting a minimum marriage age would be extremely easy—should there be support for it. In the United States, on the other hand, a minimum marriage age law is unlikely to reach a consensus.
Minimum marriage age laws are an issue that could easily reach the Supreme Court, but that is an alley that takes a very long time to walk down. States’ rights are intrinsic to the United States. Many, whatever their position, would be opposed to the government taking a federal approach to this area of regulation.
On the flip side, you have the rights of the child.
Unchained at Last, a campaign that opposes child marriage, gives some very disturbing statistics. Women who marry before 19 are fifty percent more likely to drop out of high school and four times more likely to leave college early. Teen mothers who marry before childbirth are less likely to return to school than their unmarried counterparts. Health issues include a higher risk of contracting STIs and abortions.
Pregnancy seems to be one of the most interesting case studies. Conservatives are more likely to believe that a pregnant woman should be married, believing wedlock to be the best place to raise a child. That isn’t even probably limited to conservatives, but it is something that many people believe. It’s a fair opinion.
Is it fair, however, to allow a fourteen year old to be married to an older man when she’s still in high school? Is it fair not to give her the option of marriage?
The rights of the child and states’ rights seem to be at odds. It is an issue not many think about, but that many should.
Is it a case of protecting against a potentially bleak future or allowing an individual to make their own choice?
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.