By Amy Harmon and Alan Blinder
State lawmakers across the country are moving to raise the minimum age to marry, out of growing concern that lax marriage laws may be contributing to sex trafficking and to children being forced to marry against their will.
Delaware became the first state to ban marriage for anyone under age 18 when the governor signed the measure last week. In the other 49 states, current law allows minors to marry, generally with parental consent or judicial approval. At least 20 states have no minimum age set by statute.
But over the past two years, seven states have raised their minimum marriage age to 16 or 17, and at least seven more are considering legislation to tighten their rules.
By Stephanie Cajigal
A new report by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health researchers found that approximately 78,400 children in the U.S. are or have been married.
Although all states in the U.S. set 18 as the legal age minimum for marriage, exceptions to the minimum can be granted in every state under varying conditions, including parental consent and official approval.
“The United States invests public resources to prevent child marriage abroad while continuing to permit it domestically,” said the study’s lead author, Alissa Koski, a postdoctoral scholar at the Fielding School. “This inconsistency between foreign policy and domestic laws has generated surprisingly little attention.”
Researchers analyzed data collected between 2010 and 2014 from the American Community Survey, which asks about the marital status of teens ages 15 to 17.
They report that an average of 6.8 of every 1,000 girls and 5.7 of every 1,000 boys had been or were married at the time they were surveyed. Prevalence differed by state: More than 10 per 1,000 children were married in West Virginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, and fewer than four per 1,000 children were married in Maine, Rhode Island and Wyoming. The study also found that child marriages were highly unstable: Nearly a quarter of children were already separated or divorced before the age of 18.
At least 14 states have or are currently considering changes to their minimum-age-at-marriage laws that would further restrict the marriage of minors, but some of the proposed legislation has been met with strong opposition.
The study was published online by Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and will appear in the journal’s June issue.
Published on UCLA News on April 17, 2018
By Heather Barr
It’s been a funny week. I’m in Kabul, Afghanistan, launching a new Human Rights Watch report I wrote about the lack of progress in girls’ education in Afghanistan. But in between meetings, in the back of a dusty Corolla, stalled at security checkpoints, I’ve been emailing frantically about Florida.
Afghanistan has a serious problem with child marriage.
So does Florida.
In Afghanistan child marriage is associated with girls dropping out of school, sinking into poverty, being at greater risk of domestic violence, and with serious health risks, including death. Child marriage is associated with similar harms in the United States too.
Child marriage law tougher in Afghanistan than FloridaOne important difference, though, between Florida and Afghanistan, is that Afghanistan has a tougher law on child marriage than Florida does. In Afghanistan girls can marry at 16, or at 15 with permission from their father or a judge. In Florida, a pregnant girl can marry at any age, with the approval of a judge.
Human Rights Watch has done extensive research on child marriage, interviewing hundreds of married children in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch has also advocated for an end to child marriage in other countries, including Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Of these countries, only Saudi Arabia and Yemen, like Florida in the case of a pregnant child, have laws that set no age below which children cannot marry.
A group of organisations working to end child marriage in the United States will travel to Tallahassee, Florida next week to ask members of the state legislature to pass a pending law that would set the minimum age of marriage in Florida at 18 with no exceptions.
16,000 children married in FloridaFlorida is among the US states with the highest rates of child marriage – between 2011 and 2015, more than 16,000 children under the age of 18 married in Florida. But it is far from alone in permitting child marriage. Marriage below the age of 18 is legal in all 50 states, and Florida is one of 25 states in which under some circumstances children of any age can marry. According to 2000 to 2010 data from 38 states, more than 167,000 children married in those states alone during this period.
Child marriage occurs in every region of the world and globally, one out of every four girls marries before age 18, and 15 million girls under 18 marry each year—one every two seconds. The overwhelming majority of married children are girls, most of whom marry spouses who are older than they are—in some cases much older.
Research demonstrates that child marriage is associated with, and in some cases causes, severe harm, wherever married children live. A 2010 study found that girls or young women in the US who married before age 19 were 50 per cent more likely to drop out of high school than their unmarried counterparts, and only 25 per cent as likely to complete college. Girls who marry as early teens, before age 16, in the US are 31 per cent more likely to end up in poverty later in life.
Impact of child marriageResearchers have found significant associations between child marriage and mental and physical health disorders. Research from other countries shows a correlation between child marriage and domestic violence. Married girls often find it more difficult than married women to escape an abusive or unhappy marriage, and to get services such as shelter and legal assistance.
Child marriage in the US is a crucially important issue because the future of tens of thousands of children in the US is being jeopardised by child marriage. It is also important because this is a key moment in a global effort to end child marriage, and donor countries like the US need to show that they will work to end child marriage not only abroad but at home as well.
Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which went into effect in January 2016, countries around the world, including the US, agreed to a target of ending all child marriage by 2030. Countries including Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Malawi, Nepal, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden have recently revised their laws in an effort to reduce child marriage. Many other countries have developed or are developing national action plans for ending child marriage by 2030.
In the US, New York, Texas, and Virginia recently passed laws cracking down on child marriage. If the Florida law passes, it will be the first US state to ban all marriage before age 18.
Girls in Florida, and around the world, need to be kids, not wives.
Published on HRW on October 20, 2017
By Christopher Zoukis
One in 14 children in the U.S. has one or both parents in prison — and those children are four times more likely to end up in jail themselves. They also drop out of school at a higher rate and, if they are in foster care, are 65 percent more likely to become homeless once they age out.
Those are sobering statistics, but there’s more. Between 1991 and 2007 the number of imprisoned adults that had children in their care at the time of incarceration has grown by 79 percent.
Much has been said, studied and written about how prisoners should be treated and educated, but earlier this year in Oregon, attention also turned to the children that are left behind when a parent goes to jail. In Oregon, nearly 70,000 children have one or both parents in behind bars. The numbers are skewed toward African-Americans (1 in 9 children) and those low on the socio-economic scale (1 in 8 children).
To address the needs of these children, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill of rights – the first of its kind – with the aim of creating policies that help children maintain ties with their incarcerated mothers and/or fathers, and reducing the trauma associated with having a parent in prison.
“We know that a large part of what helps with re-entry is having families that are intact. Children of incarcerated parents are victims, as well, of what happens. Their needs are rarely taken into consideration by the courts [and] by the police,” said Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), the chief sponsor of the bill.
There are nine rights on the bill, including these four:
1. The right to maintain a relationship with the incarcerated parent(s)
2. The right to be protected from trauma and harm following the parent(s) arrest
3. The right to be included in decisions, such as foster care
4. The right to be cared for in a way that takes the child’s mental, emotional and physical needs into account.
Additional bills that Dembrow supported focus on incarcerated parents’ entry back into society when their jail time is completed, and include:
1. Suspension of child support payments for the incarcerated parent(s)
2. The ability to do community service in lieu of paying court fees and fines, for those on probation
3. Certificates of good standing for those with minor offenses that demonstrate good behaviour, community service and adherence to probation rules. Such certificates aim to give released prisoners a better chance at obtaining self-sufficiency through housing and jobs.
It’s hoped this two-pronged approach for the children incarcerated parents and the parents themselves will increase a child’s overall wellness following their parent’s arrest and incarceration, foster the maintenance of the family unit, help parents get back into society with the ability to take care of their children, and reduce the stigma children with parents in jail often experience.
While a bill of this nature is not binding, it’s a big step forward in the continuous revamp of America’s prison system, and the recently created Task Force on Children of Incarcerated Parents will further develop the children’s bill of rights and help to implement it across the state’s wellness agencies.
The overarching goal of the bill, the support behind it, and the work ahead of it, is to consistently identify and break down the barriers that come up when a child has a parent committed to jail. The social, economic, mental and access-to-opportunities barriers can create huge obstacles for these children. Hopefully this new bill of rights will dismantle those barriers, resulting in better rehabilitation for offenders and better outcomes for families.
Published on the HuffPost on October 4, 2017.
By By Sarah Ruiz-Grossman
Texas passed a law to make marriage under age 18 illegal.
On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill banning child marriage, in the state with the second highest rate of underage marriage.
Before this new law, 16- and 17-year-olds could marry in Texas with parental consent, according to advocacy group Tahirih Justice Center, which helped draft and drive the bill to get passed. What’s more, a child of any age could get married with judicial approval.
This new law includes one exception: Those ages 16 and 17 can marry if they have been legally emancipated from their parents. In Texas, this still sets a firm minimum age for marriage at 16.
“We applaud Texas for closing legal loopholes in its minimum marriage age laws that have put far too many girls at risk, for far too long,” Tahirih senior counsel for policy Jeanne Smoot said in a press release. “Texas had one of the worst child marriage rates in the country, but with this new law, the state is instead at the forefront of the national movement to tackle child marriage in America.”
Texas has the highest number of child marriages in the country, with nearly 40,000 children under age 18 married from 2000 to 2014, the latest year for which data is available, reports Tahirih. Around 2,000 children are married in the state each year.
With the new law, Texas has become the second state in the country ― following Virginia last year ― to close any legal loopholes and limit marriage to legal adults, 18 and older, or court-emancipated minors 16 and over, Smoot told HuffPost.
Child marriage is still an issue in the U.S. While most states technically don’t allow anyone under 18 to marry, loopholes in state laws mean that minors still can marry fairly easily, according to the Pew Research Center. In more than 30 states, 16-year-olds can get married with parents’ permission, and younger children can get married with a judge’s consent.
That means marrying under age 18 is legal in almost every state. However, it is not very common: In 2014, around 57,800 children aged 15 to 17 were married in the U.S.
One child marriage survivor in Texas, Lyndsy Duet, was married by force at age 17 after being raped since age 14 by a man her Christian family had taken in, reports New York Times’ Nick Kristof.
“He asked my parents if he could marry me,” Duet told Kristof of her rapist. “My mom was crying, she was so happy.”
Duet was then physically abused by her husband, only escaping the marriage eight years later.
Underage marriage can be devastating for a young person’s future. Girls married underage are less likely to stay in school and more likely to become victims of domestic violence. They also are at higher risk for mental health problems, and have a greater likelihood of future poverty, Smoot noted.
The reasons behind underage marriage vary, Smoot told HuffPost, from “cases that are essentially human trafficking” where a parent seeks financial gain by marrying off their child, to ones in which parents force a girl to get married after they got pregnant or had pre-marital sex.
“The reasons [child marriage] occurs may be varied,” Smoot told HuffPost. “But the commonalities are in the vulnerability of children and their limited options to prevent or escape marriages they don’t want.”
With still many more states to go to close all loopholes in underage marriage laws across the country, Smoot is optimistic. More than 10 states have recently considered or passed similar bills, she said, and in New York and Connecticut, underage marriage bills are simply awaiting governors’ signatures.
This legislation has to pass state by state, because it is not possible through one federal law to mandate a single consistent age at marriage, Smoot noted.
“The movement is picking up steam. I think policymakers are coming to the commonsense realization that the status quo is putting girls at risk of serious harm,” Smoot told HuffPost. “There are still many states to go, but we’ve been encouraged by how many states have heard the alarm bell we sounded with Virginia and are taking a hard look at their own statutes.”
Published on The Huffington Post on June 16, 2017.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.