Marriage is thought to be a sacred union between two consenting adults. However, in most of the country, you don’t necessarily have to be an adult. New Jersey recently became the second state (after Delaware) to ban marriage for people under the age of eighteen.
Forty eight states still allow children to get married either on their own volition or with the approval of their parents and/or a judge. A hundred years ago someone may not have batted an eyelash at a sixteen year old’s tying the knot but times have changed along with general life expectancy.
The idea behind children getting married used to be attributed to the fact that most people dropped dead by fifty, so it didn’t make sense to wait until 35 to get married and have children. In today’s society, child marriage can mostly be attributed to religious and family preference.
“There’s nothing easy about escaping a forced marriage,” Reiss said.
National forced marriage statistics are hard to come by. In a survey of marriage licenses compiled by Unchained At Last, at least 167,000 children under 18 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. (That number is likely on the conservative side, as Unchained At Last could obtain age data from only 38 U.S. states.)
The vast majority of those children were girls married off to adult men, Reiss said.
The argument against the forced marriage of minors is clear, it is a distinct violation of human rights. A person should not be forced to enter into a legal contract with another person they do not choose or before they are ready.
On the contrary, if a person under eighteen chooses to get married, should the law prevent them? That depends on how the law measures the aptitude of children to make decisions that affect their lives.
Laws already exist to regulate the purchase of alcohol and tobacco, voting, serving in the military and gambling. Does marriage fall in the same category? Perhaps it should, since it is a legal contract.
Legislatures in other states seem to agree as California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania are now considering passing bills to limit or end child marriage.