Num­ber of chil­dren mar­ry­ing adults has in­creased in the US

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - CHRIS BAYNES

MORE than 200 000 chil­dren were mar­ried in the US over the past 15 years, new fig­ures have re­vealed.

Three 10-year-old girls and an 11-year-old boy were among the youngest to wed, un­der le­gal loop­holes that al­low mi­nors to marry in cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

The min­i­mum age for mar­riage across most of the US is 18, but ev­ery state has ex­emp­tions such as parental con­sent or preg­nancy, which al­low younger chil­dren to tie the knot.

In May, the high-pro­file Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of New Jer­sey de­clined to sign into law a mea­sure that would have made his state the first to ban child mar­riage with­out ex­cep­tion. Chris Christie claimed it would con­flict with re­li­gious cus­toms.

At least 207 468 mi­nors mar­ried in the US be­tween 2000 and 2015, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by Un­chained At Last, a group cam­paign­ing to abol­ish child mar­riage, and the in­ves­tiga­tive doc­u­men­tary se­ries Front­line.

The true fig­ure is likely to be much higher be­cause 10 states pro­vided no or in­com­plete sta­tis­tics.

Fraidy Reiss, the founder of Un­chained at Last, said she was “lit­er­ally shak­ing” when she first ob­tained data for New Jer­sey, where her group is based.

Nearly 3 500 chil­dren mar­ried in the state be­tween 1995 and 2012.

“That num­ber was so much higher than I had thought it would be,” she told Front­line.

“Then there was the fact that the chil­dren were as young as 13 and that it was mostly girls mar­ried to adult men.”

Eighty­seven per­cent of the mi­nors who mar­ried across the coun­try be­tween 2000 and 2015 were girls, with the ma­jor­ity ei­ther 16 or 17.

The youngest wed­ded were three 10-year-old girls in Ten­nessee, who mar­ried men aged 24, 25 and 31 in 2001.

The youngest groom was an 11-year-old who mar­ried a 27-year-old woman in the same state in 2006.

Chil­dren as young as 12 were granted mar­riage li­cences in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina, while 11 other states al­lowed 13-year-olds to wed.

More than 1 000 chil­dren aged 14 or un­der were granted mar­riage li­cences.

Most states set the age of sex­ual con­sent be­tween 16 and 18, and a per­son can be charged with statu­tory rape for hav­ing sex with a mi­nor.

Yet, many chil­dren were granted mar­riage li­cences, ap­proved by judges, be­fore they could le­gally con­sent to hav­ing sex.

Only 14% of the chil­dren who wed­ded were mar­ried to other mi­nors.

Most mar­ried a part­ner aged 18 to 29, with 60% aged be­tween 18 or 20. But in rare cases, chil­dren were per­mit­ted to wed some­one decades older.

A 14-year-old girl mar­ried a 74-year-old man in Alabama, while a 17-year-old wed a 65-year-old groom in Idaho.

Child brides usu­ally come from poor back­grounds, said Jeanne Smoot, a lawyer at­tor­ney with the Tahirih Jus­tice Cen­ter.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion of­fers le­gal ser­vices to women flee­ing vi­o­lence and has called for child mar­riage to be banned.

She added: “Al­most all the ev­i­dence in­di­cates that girls in cities don’t get mar­ried young and that girls from mid­dle-class or wealthy fam­i­lies don’t get mar­ried young.

“This is a ru­ral phenomenon and it is a phenomenon of poverty.”

Last month, New York State banned chil­dren aged un­der 17 from mar­ry­ing.

Pre­vi­ously, mi­nors as young as 14 were al­lowed to wed un­der state law pro­vided they ob­tained parental and court per­mis­sion.

The youngest who tied the knot were three 10-year-old girls

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.