The word child marriage concocts an image of some 12-year-old girl being forced to marry some 40-year-old man by her family for money in some faraway land. But this nightmare doesn't just happen in faraway countries, it happens in the United States, too. While child marriage is an especially rampant and horrid issue in other regions like South Asia, it is baffling to some to think it exists and is technically legal here, too.
While the legal age of marriage in many states is 18, there are many loopholes to this general rule. In more than half of the states teenagers aged 16 and 17 can marry with their parents' permission. This doesn't seem so bad. It is completely plausible for people to marry young and have successful, lasting marriages with their parents' blessings.
However, that is not the case. Most parents take advantage of the legal system to force their children into marriages. This is especially evident in laws of particular states and counties. For example, in Florida there is no age limit on a marriage license if one of the partners is pregnant.
Between 2000 and 2010, there were about 250,000 children being married off across the United States. While this number is not a significant proportion of the population to claim a raging epidemic, it is cause for pause. It does lead one to question, is there something else going on here?
The majority of children being forced into marriage are, in fact, young girls. Often times, the primary cause of child marriages appears to be pregnancy. But the real cause is the culture in these particular communities. Young girls are often raped by adult men in their communities and the parents, fearing the perception and consequences, force them into a marriage.
Other than social perceptions, I believe there is a connection between education and forced child marriages. The U.S. states with higher child marriages tend to have lower high school graduation rates. While correlation does not always equal causation, I do believe education can significantly change one's future path. Education makes a difference in forced child marriages because it empowers young women to be more independent and make their own informed decisions, not just in the U.S., but everywhere.
Being forced into any marriage is awful, but being forced into marriage as a child is downright cruel. This isn't something that should be happening in any society, let alone ours.