By: Nicole Chedraoui
Growing up in a traditional household, many may have been raised to believe that there is a certain order in which you are expected to do certain things. Graduate high school, go to college, fall in love, get married, and have kids. Now, believe me, I am not one for traditions, and one person’s life is bound to end up entirely differently than someone else’s. There is absolutely no right or wrong way to go about living and progressing as a human; however, there is one thing that I have been thinking a lot about recently, and it is something that nobody really at all is talking about right now–and that is the minimum age to legally marry a partner.
Now I know some may believe in love at first sight. Many successful relationships have even sprung from middle school or high school crushes; however, today, we’re going to talk about when young love is brought to the extremes. Getting married young is one thing, but getting married as a minor, that is something entirely different. So let’s get into the fact shall we?
In North Carolina, the legal age to marry is 16, which may or may not come as a shock to many. In fact, the most common minimum age requirement on marriage is 16 with parental consent. While I have my own problem on this that I will get into later, what is far more concerning are states such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Hawaii. With parental consent, adolescents from Massachusetts can legally get married at just 14 for males, and 12 years old for females. YEAH 12. I am not even going to get into the gender split, because that is an entirely different problem. In New Hampshire, boys can get married at just 14, and girls at 13. Hawaii and Missori are also letting their kids get married at 15, with parental consent. Now, if you are anything like me, you may think this is bonkers. A vast majority of preteens haven’t even reached puberty or lost all their teeth yet, and we’re just going to let them get married? While many think this is okay since the issue of parental consent is tagged on– isn’t that all the more concerning? What about those parents who force children into relationships? Who will use their non-consenting child for economic reasons, and who will set up a whole life for them they in no way can legally consent to?
Over 200,000 minors were married in the U.S between 2000 and 2015. While there is a vast amount of evidence that supports children (mainly girls) are more at risk of child marriage in poorer rural settings, ultimately, child marriage affects all communities. The federal government has set no law in place regarding child marriage, they left the states up to decide their own boudaries and requirments. The element that is so dangerous about this practice is ultimately the parents. Many parents may believe that marriage is in their daughter’s best interest, especially if she is pregnant. However, the vast majority of girls who are married before they are 18 are harmed for life. More than 50% of them are forced to drop out of school, to be separated from their friends and families, not to mention the likelihood of poverty and domestic abuse is higher for these situations as well. Girls between the ages of 15-19 are twice as likely to die from childbirth as women in their 20s, and between 70-80% of child marriages end in divorce.
After discovering all of this, I decided to research some on the organization UNICEF, who, just like me, totally disagree with the prospect of young girls and boys being wed. UNICEF along with many other very honorable charities partnered together to create a supreme force that advocates for legislation that prohibits marriage before the age of 18, with absolutely no exceptions. In May of 2018, Delaware became a trailblazer for this movement, becoming the first state to make it illegal for anybody under the age of 18 to be wed. Fraidy Reiss is the founder of the charity “Unchained At Last,” and spoke about how this victory impacted her. In a very teary interview, Riess shared that “This [was] such a personal victory for me — because I’m a forced-marriage survivor, and because I wrote this bill, and because I worked for three years to turn this bill into law.” After this law passed in Delaware, New Jersey was the next state to follow in the footsteps of Delaware.
While this was a major victory, the most worrisome state that still has been left untouched is the state of Missouri. More than 1,000 15-year-olds have been married in Missouri since 1999. Children ages 14, 13 and 12 can marry in Missouri — it’s one of 25 states with no minimum age requirement. For those 14 and younger, a judge’s consent is required. Many traveled up to 1,800 miles to Missouri from as far off as Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Florida and every other state in the region: Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.
Luckily for us, there are tons of organizations around the country just like UNICEF, who are working towards addressing social norms, culture, beliefs and traditions, that make parents believe that child marriage is the right thing to do. I implore you, no matter your age, no matter your beliefs–traditional or not–do your research. Because science doesn’t lie, and this is something so many of us had no idea was happening right beneath our noses.
If you’ve made it this far, I love you, and please take a minute out of your day to sign this petition to help prohibit marriage under the age of 18.