In the United States, girls as young as 12 years old are being married to much older men. It has been estimated that between 2000 and 2010 about 248,000 children were married, most of whom were female. Many assume that 18 is the legal marrying age in the United States and that there are protections against anyone under that entering a marriage, but that is far from reality. 18 states have no minimum age for marriage and, with certain conditions, minors of any age can be legally married. 12 other states just recently adopted legislation to prevent younger children from getting married, but getting these policies passed is a much more difficult process than one would guess.
All that is required for children under 18 to be married in the United States is typically parental or judicial consent, which is sometimes waived in cases of pregnancy. In cases of pregnancy, many American girls report being forced to marry the father to avoid stigma surrounding teen pregnancies. When minors get married they are more likely to drop out of school, get divorced, experience domestic abuse, and fall below the poverty line. Even worse, minors cannot legally file for divorce and are not allowed in domestic violence shelters as they are under 18. Girls have expressed that if they run away they simply would be returned back to their adult husband, and to worse home life.
In terms of arguments against legislation to prevent childhood marriages, many claim religious freedom, as conservative families of various dominations are most likely to marry off their younger daughters. Others say that pregnant teens who are dismissed by their families have no option but to marry the father of their baby in order to receive their income and health benefits. Marriage allows teen mothers to care for both their babies and themselves.
Another easy way for female children to be married is by being brought to the United States by immigrant men as either wives or fiancées. The US government allows adult men to bring minor brides over as long as the marriage is legal in the country of origin and in the state in which the couple will reside. Again, most states have no written legislation entirely preventing the marriage of minors. Our immigration system moves quickly through these applications, allowing thousands of young girls to be brought to the US purely to be married to men who are decades older.
Politicians also claim that their mothers or grandmothers were married at a young age and turned out fine, so no legislation is necessary to protect these girls. The gross misconception that just because it happened before it should continue to happen allows sexist stereotypes to be perpetuated across the United States. We condemn "less civilized" countries for marrying girls off so young while forgetting that we allow the same practice at home. Teenage girls should be graduating high school, attending college, and pursuing fulfilling careers just as their male peers are. The days of girls being raised to be wives and mothers and nothing more have passed. We need to move our country into the future and abolish child marriages once and for all.