Child marriage is an issue that requires urgent attention in the United States.children’s rights

On April 4, the Virginia General Assembly passed an amendment to state law raising the age of marriage to 18. A few days later, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the bill.

The vote, which came during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States, was an important victory for children’s rights. Protecting vulnerable minors from sexual assault should include banning child marriage nationwide. However, Virginia is only the 12th state in the United States to ban child marriage. The remaining 11 countries enacted bans between 2017 and 2024. This means that until 2017, child marriage was legal across the United States under certain conditions, such as with the consent of parents or a judge, or if the minor is pregnant or has children. These loopholes effectively kept the practice widespread.

Only 12 out of 50 states have a ban on child marriage, an embarrassingly low number. More needs to be done. Child marriage needs to be banned nationwide.

Americans often view child marriage as a “foreign” problem, but new research from the Population Research Institute shows that child marriage is alarmingly widespread across the United States, cutting across regions, religions, and cultures. of the title Behind Closed Doors: Exposing and Addressing Harmful Gender-Based Practices in the United States. Between 2000 and 2018, an estimated 300,000 minors under the age of 18 were legally married in the United States. For example, California has no minimum age for marriage and more than 8,000 children marry each year.

Eighty-six percent of reported child marriages in the United States are between adults and minors, mostly girls between the ages of 16 and 17, but sometimes as young as 12. Marriage of girls to adult men creates dangerously unequal power relationships and increases the risk of child abuse. Domestic and sexual violence.

Let me be clear: child marriage is a form of gender-based violence and a human rights violation. In addition to physical and psychological abuse, it exposes minors to the risk of poverty and exploitation, and deprives them of educational and economic opportunities. It is the leading cause of adolescent girls dropping out of school around the world. In the United States, women who marry before age 19 are 50% more likely to drop out of high school, one-fourth less likely to graduate from college, and 31% more likely to live in poverty. The effects reverberate throughout a person’s life, perpetuating a cycle of intergenerational poverty.

But the practice continues because there is no comprehensive federal law setting a minimum age for marriage, and a patchwork of state child marriage laws is inconsistent and riddled with loopholes. The myth of American exceptionalism, the counterfactual belief that child marriage is someone else’s problem and can’t happen here, prevents constructive public debate and effective legislation.

This false belief fuels a cycle of neglect and inaction and prevents countries from passing effective measures.

Resistance to child marriage laws has also come from both conservatives and progressives. Conservatives say it interferes with religious freedom. Progressives worry it could deprive minors of sexual and reproductive choice.

But child marriage threatens children’s bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom more than any previous prohibition. Ending an outdated tradition is more important to the health and dignity of America’s children than preserving it. They need protection from entering into legal contracts from which they have no right to escape, and the power to make their own choices about their lives.

While the United States vocally opposes child and forced marriage in other countries, laws against child and forced marriage in the United States are patchy and weak and fail to protect those at risk. In fact, most U.S. states overwhelmingly fail to comply with international child rights standards.

To end child marriage in the United States, we must first recognize it as an urgent and ongoing national problem. Further condemnation of this practice or ostracization of affected communities will not help. U.S. policymakers should focus on learning from victims to understand the root causes and real-world effects of child marriage, and work with them to build support for child marriage bans in each state. It is.

The goals of survivor-led advocacy include raising awareness, passing effective and actionable legislation, investing in comprehensive sex education, and expanding reproductive health support services and resources. State authorities should support such efforts.

All states should strive to pass and implement a strong legal framework that sets the minimum age for marriage at 18 years, without exception. That is the only way to guarantee full and free consent. It is the responsibility of policymakers, advocates, and community members to combat child marriage and other harmful gender-based practices and uphold everyone’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy and dignity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of NDMT.

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