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Child Marriage is an American Issue

Although many American are opposed to child marriage, it is still legal in all 50 states.

It was recently estimated by the International Center for Research on Women that the practice of child marriage will cost the global economy $500 billion annually by 2030. Myriad global leaders have committed their respective governments to ending child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM), an acknowledgement that child marriage is both a symptom of societal failures and a cause of the perpetuation of cyclical inequality.

The United States is party to a number of agreements that prioritize the eradication of child marriage—including the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (specifically SDG 5), the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, and the Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

Despite these pledges, child marriage remains legal in all 50 American states.

Thousands of children—mostly girls—are married within the U.S. each year.

Twenty-five states have no minimum age limit for marriage, and nine more have limits of age 15 or younger. Only three states (New York, Texas, and Virginia) have enacted legislation to ban child marriage. All three continue to allow exceptions below the age limit of 18. The negative consequences of marrying young in the U.S. are extensive—girls who marry before age 18 are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses, 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school, four times less likely to complete college, and 31 percent more likely to live their adult lives in poverty.

Marrying as a minor is also significantly associated with all lifetime mental disorders (except pathological gambling and dependent personality disorders), and women who marry before age 18 have a 23 percent greater risk of disease onset.

Plan’s programmatic work supports girls’ access to strong societal structures, varied economic opportunities, and cultural and relational support systems. Plan also aims to empower girls to embrace a strong self-image and exercise their right to personal autonomy. Each of these interventions fills the gaps through which children fall victim to vulnerability and exploitation via child marriage.

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