International conversations about child marriage often center on lower-income countries, but the practice exists right here in the United States. Between 2000 and 2018, almost 300,000 girls and boys in the U.S. were married before their 18th birthday. The consequences for these children are the same for children everywhere: increased poverty, a higher risk of health complications and lower educational attainment.
UNICEF USA and partners are leading the effort to end child marriage in the United States. On July 23, 2021, New York's bill outlawing child marriage (S3086/A3891) became law, making New York the sixth state — after Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — to ban child marriage without exceptions.
While opposition can arise from a variety of sources, the biggest barrier to ending child marriage in the U.S. is a lack of awareness. A recent survey found that nearly half of Americans polled believe that child marriage is already illegal in the all U.S. states. The remaining respondents believed that the practice was legal in five or fewer states. Without constituent education and public pressure, elected officials may not see the importance of pushing for legislation to formally outlaw child marriage. UNICEF USA's advocacy work is critical to overcoming this obstacle and raising awareness.
Closing the loopholes in state marriage laws is a crucial step toward protecting the right of all children to reach their full potential. The negative consequences associated with child marriage are a violation of child rights, especially those of girls. Eighty-six percent of child marriages in the U.S. involve a girl married to a significantly older man. Instead of permitting child marriage, state governments should invest in systems that support vulnerable girls and their families.
As more states pass laws banning child marriage, the U.S. moves closer to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, which calls for the end of child marriage and female genital mutilation by 2030. UNICEF USA remains committed to ending child marriage, both in the U.S. and around the world. Success would bring the world one step closer to protecting children and ensuring that every child can grow up healthy and happy.
Child marriage is a human rights violation. Urge your state elected officials to end child marriage by supporting legislation in your state legislature.