This Archaic Practice Is Still Legal In The U.S. – And It Will Shock You

When our children hit the teenage years, they begin to gain independence and form more mature and complex relationships.  We see them grow and change in the blink of an eye, no longer little ones, and we do our best to guide them in these crucial last years of childhood.

Even when they are teenagers, we try our best to keep our children safe, alerting them to danger and praying their values will help them to make good decisions.  But there are many teens without the support of a loving and engaged family who fall through the cracks and grow up way too fast.

Most parents are aware of the dangers of their teens getting too serious in a relationship too quickly.  At this age, they feel they are grown, but they still lack the maturity and life experience to make completely informed decisions.  Teens are often still impulsive and unencumbered by concern for the long-term consequences of their actions.

Often, teens leave home before they are ready, eager to be on their own.  And, shockingly, some teen couples feel they are mature enough to make the lifetime commitment of marriage.

While this sometimes occurs with parental consent – which would be hard for most of us to understand — there are darker instances of child marriages in the U.S.  While hard to believe, there are many legal loopholes that allow this dangerous situation to continue in America today.

ScaryMommy.com reported:

Child marriage is a serious issue in America. Between 2000 and 2010, advocacy organization Unchained At Last estimates that 248,000 children were married in America. That’s a quarter of a million kids, 85% of whom were girls. And they weren’t marrying their high school sweethearts, folks.

78% were young girls tying the knot with adult men. Some of the couples were so far apart that their unions would constitute statutory rape if they weren’t prettied up and legalized on paper. 

State laws vary. But 27 states — more than half — have no bottom age floor for marriage (though some may set one through case law). Other state laws range from allowing marriage at age 17 all the way down to permitting it between 14-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls. Yes, you read that right.

State law may require parental consent, a judge’s consent, or even just a clerk’s consent. Only Virginia requires participants to be 18-years-old or emancipated minors of 16 or 17 years. This is as progressive as America gets. Meanwhile, according to Unchained at Last, in the years between 2000 and 2010, twelve-year-olds got hitched in the great states of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Alaska. Twelve. Years. Old.

You may ask yourself how this is possible in a modern society in the most developed nation in the world.  But the archaic laws allowing teens under the age of 18 – or even young kids not yet in their teens – to marry are still on the books.  And no one seems to be doing much about it.

Some occurrences of child marriage are complicit ones.  Teens may fall in love and feel ready to take on the world without the maturity to do so.  A teen pregnancy may occur and the decision is made to try to live as a family.

In these cases, a parent often gives consent.  They may not know what else to do; they may want to teach their child to own up to their responsibilities; they just may not care.  While we can hardly imagine such a tragic family environment, many teens are forced out on their own with no support and turn to marriage as a perceived form of security.

Other families hold even darker secrets.  They may willingly marry a daughter off to an older man as a way to relieve financial stress on the household – or even worse – a young girl is raped and the family forces her to marry to “save face” for “her” actions, placing the blame on the victim for tarnishing the family name.

Whether consensual and with parental consent, or forced against their will, child marriage has devastating consequences.  ScaryMommy.com continued:

Unchained at Last notes that girls who marry before 19 are 50% more likely to drop out of high school than their counterparts, and often unable to “access work or educational opportunities,” because they tend to have more kids closer together. Moreover, girls married before 18 are three times more likely to be physically abused than women who marry after age 21.

Lawmakers are refusing to see that child marriage destroys lives, and often forces children into highly abusive situations.  The Independent reports that three 10-year-olds were married in Texas in 2001 — to 24-, 25-, and 31-year-olds. Normally, we call that pedophilia. But in at least 27 states in America, it could be just another day in the court clerk’s office. And if we’re to call ourselves a decent country, one that protects the innocent, that’s something that has to change. Right now.

In about half of states in the U.S. allow marriage under the age of 18, with only Virginia, Texas, and New York holding 18 as the minimum legal age.  Legal loopholes and lax judicial reviews allow this practice to happen far too often.

The Nation reported:

Other states have blurrier standards. Seventeen states allow a judge to approve underage marriage after considering a “child’s best interest.” In eight states and Washington, DC, a court clerk’s approval is required. In 37 states, marriage at 16 or 17 requires approval by the child’s custodial parents. standardizing the minimum marriage age wouldn’t conflict with children’s rights but actually protect them, because existing state policies are riddled with gaping loopholes or judicial blindspots.

Some states lower marriage age for pregnant teens, as if being old enough for pregnancy means being mature enough for marriage. Some states might effectively bar a married minor from “filing on her own for a protective order against her parents or a dating partner,” or require that in order to file a divorce proceeding, the youth must have “an adult to file on her behalf.” Or an abuse victim might find herself unable to escape an abusive home because, in some states, “if friends take her in, they could risk being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor or harboring a runaway.”

The laws on the books in many of these states are hard to believe in this day and age.  While our nation affords many protections to children who are suspected of living in dangerous or abusive situations, child marriage seems to be an issue not contained within any set boundaries.

Some legislatures argue that raising the minimum age to marry to 18 in all 50 states would violate the cultural and religious views or customs of some families.  Others point to the supposed difficulty of repealing laws that have been on the books for over a century.

Statistics show that teen marriage prevents the pursuit of educational opportunities, the likelihood of living in poverty, and skyrocketing percentages of domestic abuse.  The time is long overdue to pass a nationwide minimum age of 18 to allow for better opportunities for the safety and success of our teens.

What do you think of these shocking statistics?  Were you aware of this issue that continues to occur in the U.S. today?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.

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