Child marriage in the U.S.: it’s far more common than you think

Nick Kristof has a frightening column in today’s New York Times (click on screenshot to read it) detailing the extent of child marriages—nearly always involving young girls and older men—in the U.S. I had no idea, for instance, that 27 of our 50 states have no legal minimum age for marriage!

There are several hair-raising tales in his piece, including the title piece of an 11 year old forced to marry a 20 year old man who had raped her; it took place in Florida, one of those states with no minimum age. What struck me is the role of religion in all this. We know about Mormons, of course, but this also takes place in Christian and Jewish settings. The 11-year-old, for instance, married a member of her church. Few of these marriages work out, and in some places even constitute statutory rape, though that can be obviated. As Kristof notes:

Globally, a girl marries before the age of 15 every seven seconds, according to estimates by Save the Children. As in Africa and Asia, the reasons for such marriages in the U.S. are often cultural or religious; the American families follow conservative Christian, Muslim or Jewish traditions, and judges sometimes feel that they shouldn’t intrude on other cultures.

That cultural relativism is ridiculous; consequentialism alone dictates that no “respect” is due to such practices of any culture, much less in America.

Here are some facts:

  • Records show that over 167,000 people under 18 were married between 2000 and 2010, including girls as young as 12. That was from 38 states, but extrapolation from other states leads to an estimate of almost a quarter million child marriages during that decade.
  • Every state in the U.S. allows underage girls to get married, though some require consent of a judge or the parents.
  • New Hampshire has a law allowing girls to marry at 13; when a Girl Scout campaigned to raise the age to 18o, the Republican state legislature refused to change the law, with representative David Bates saying, ““We’re asking the Legislature to repeal a law that’s been on the books for over a century, that’s been working without difficulty, on the basis of a request from a minor doing a Girl Scout project.” How can he live with himself?
  • New Jersey has no minimum age for marriage. Last year the state legislature voted to raise the age to 18, but it was blocked by governor Chris Christie.

Here are the minimum ages for marriage by state:

Here’s the per capita landscape of child marriage:

And the number of child marriages from 2000-2010 from states with records; note that the highest numbers are in the South:

The reasons there should be an age threshold are clear: inability to give consent, the possibility of rape and underage (and dangerous) pregnancies, coercion by religion, and so on. And 18 seems about right to me. Perhaps there can be rare exceptions, but I can’t think of any, and surely the age should never be below 16. It’s appalling that any state should have no age limit, yet that’s the case for 54% of American states.

Setting limits is simply the right thing to do, and we need to make that happen.

107 Comments

  1. Posted May 28, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I was taken by surprise too. I didn’t know things like this are in practice in US. I was born in Majority muslim country (secular) in Central Asia where marriage below 18 is criminal case.

  2. Randy schenck
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    No surprise here, I had looked at this before. It is pathetic and beyond. Religion has to be a big part of this but I do not understand why women’s organizations are not doing more. Where are the student protests on this one?

    You have to be 21 to drink but you can get married at age 11. Makes sense? Some are also shocked to know that marriage is about 50% unsuccessful. This is just one of the reasons. Most shameful of all, the same religious people who preach family values seem to value this activity. I guess statutory rape is one of those family values.

    • Blue mAAs
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      No surprise here either; I, too for ages now, have known of this [ calling it what it is — ] crime in these United States.

      As far as limiting ? or “the Right Thing ?” That ? … … That will not, within my lifetime, be made to happen. If enough of the legislating bodies had cared to, then by y2017, and within some six decades of my “modern”, scientific & secular lifetime already, that would have happened. By now.

      Blue

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      I’d heard about this before too. Also, I think the NYT recently did a big piece about child marriage in their state.

      It’s disgusting. It relates to the way religion sees women – as baby-producing machines to overwhelm other religions by sheer weight of numbers. Their consent is not required for that. They say girls are allowed to refuse, but that’s rarely the reality. Further, they’re often taught from earliest childhood this is what God made them for, and what he wants them to do.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        “They say girls are allowed to refuse, but that’s rarely the reality.”

        And yet a minor (below 18) is deemed incompetent to enter a contract to buy mail order music CDs. But they are competent to decide whether or not to marry or have sex. Hard to believe anyone believes that justification.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

          My 17 yo nephew buys stuff on line all the time from all over the world and has done for some time. He has a weekend and holiday job and his own bank account. His parents have always taught him about managing money, and he discusses all his purchases with them – they would find out when they’re delivered anyway. I don’t know if he’s doing anything illegal under NZ law.

  3. Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I suspect many states assume that statutory rape laws limit marriage age.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      It kind of works the other way round. If you allow marriage at age 12 or 14, that pretty much dissolves any statutory rape laws.

      • Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        “It kind of works the other way round. If you allow marriage at age 12 or 14, that pretty much dissolves any statutory rape laws.”

        Except it doesn’t. If you are 18 and marry a 14 year old it is still, in the eyes of the law, statutory rape if you have sex with her.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          I don’t buy it. You would have to show evidence.

          • BJ
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

            What? Show what evidence? If you have sex with a minor and you’re not a minor (except in states that have “Romeo and Juliet” laws, where if you’re withing usually two years of the person at the time, meaning they have to be at least 16 and, if they are, you have to be 18), a marriage certificate is NOT a defense.

            • Craw
              Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

              I think he means evidence that the law of statutory rape applies to a married couple. He wants you to cite a court case or applicable state or federal law. And since this can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction he has a point.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

                Yes. And when was the last time you heard about a statutory rape case involving a married couple?

              • Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                “Yes. And when was the last time you heard about a statutory rape case involving a married couple?”

                How often is there a statutory rape case where the parents consented to the relationship. If the parents consent to the marriage, which is required in every state when the person is under 18, they certainly aren’t going to turn in the kid for raping their daughter. I would bet the farm that if a teacher got some parents to consent to his marrying their daughter (his student) that he would still be going to jail if the authorities became aware of it.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

                Yes, though probably as much because of the public outcry as anything else. If it was a private Christian school it might be another matter.

              • Randy schenck
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                Thank you. The post just indicated we have thousands of these marriages, many of which must be statutory rape. Show me a conviction.

              • Craw
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

                Actually I would bet very very few fall within the definition of statutory rape, for such laws almost invariably treat the case where the age difference is only a year or two differently. So if an 18 year old has sex with a 17 year old that is generally not statutory rape, married or not.

              • BJ
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

                Exactly, Craw. That is called “Rome and Juliet” law. The data in these graphs make absolutely no distinction between Romero and Juliet marriages, marriages between two minors, and otherwise. Considering it’s 167,000 in a country of well over 300 million in a full decade, the statement that this is a religious fundamentalist country is not one that should be made.

      • BJ
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        Um, no, not at all. If you’re a 40 year old who marries a twelve year old and then has sex with them, you have committed statutory rape. Your marriage certificate is not a defense.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          Again sir…show some evidence.

        • Kevin
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

          I’ve never heard of anyone getting in trouble for this. If they are married, in the eyes of the church it’s all good.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          We went around about this a couple of months ago HERE and HERE and I provided citations showing that states that allow minors to marry at an age younger than that state’s age-of-consent law (which generally requires both parental consent and court approval) also exempt the spouse married to the minor from that state’s statutory rape laws.

          To the best of my knowledge, no person has ever been successfully prosecuted in the modern United States for the statutory rape of a spouse.

          • BJ
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

            However, the US, unlike most (ALL??) first world democracies, has an age of consent of 18. In most, it is 16 or under. If you are 16 in this country, in most states, if not the entire country, you not only need consent from your legal guardian to marry and adult, you need consent from a court.

  4. nicky
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I can hardly believe it, I’m shocked. No age limit, so Mohammed could get away with his 6 (although only ‘consumed’ at the ripe old age of 9) year old Aisha in 21st Century US of A? In a ‘civilised’, democratic country!
    And I cannot believe that feminists are not protesting this no 1 on the agenda, instead of raging about a rather modest proposal in an elevator.
    A good case for a federal law?

    • Blue mAAs
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Feminists .have been. Raging.
      Re this very crime. As well as re others.

      See above. Re legislative bodies. Re care.
      By the bodies / agencies that actually .can.
      effect change / make a t r u e difference.

      eg, How is it in, say, y1920, that women
      in the United States walked in to its
      November voting booths ? At all ?
      Because its decades’ (as, of course there were then)
      of feminists raged ?

      Really ? Because of its feminists ? At all ?

      Look up Mr Harry Burn of east Tennessee.
      Hardly … … an enraged feminist.
      At his age of 24 years then.
      Upon the very day of 18 August y1920.

      Learn of him in American History class, did we ?

      NOT.
      Blue

      • Blue mAAs
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Then. Then look up what Mr Ken Burns, father of two people and documentarian, states about THAT One Event of the 20th Century.

        Affecting change for MORE people than WWI, MORE people than WWII and MORE people than that particular century’s particular holocaust, Mr Harry Burn’s one act did. MORE than Any Other Single Event of the 20th Century.

        ‘as just that thus. Was just that THAT One Event dudn’t seem to make Much upon the Pages of History, Was just that the “people” affected ? Why, those people were Not Males.

        Blue

      • Blue mAAs
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        re those who .could. effect the limits / the changes re such crimes & quoted from Mr Kristof’s NYTimes piece:

        “In New Hampshire, a girl scout named Cassandra Levesque learned that girls in her state could marry at 13. So she set out to change the law.

        A legislator sponsored Cassandra’s bill to raise the age to 18, and researchers found that two 15-year-olds had recently married in New Hampshire, along with one 13-year-old. But politicians resisted the initiative.

        “We’re asking the Legislature to repeal a law that’s been on the books for over a century, that’s been working without difficulty, on the basis of a request from a minor doing a Girl Scout project,” scoffed one state representative, David Bates.

        In March the Republican-led House voted to kill the bill, leaving the minimum age at 13. (Legislators seem willing to marry off girls like Cassandra, but not to listen to them!)”

        The USA is a land of laws.
        Yeah. Wull, NOT so for some of us.

        ” … … been working withOUT difficulty,” Legislator stated.

        I state: “without WHOSE difficulty ?” Through nine babes’ worth of diaper changes thereAFTER said mawwiage ?! withOUT that person’s / her difficulty ?” Hardly.

        Blue

  5. Tom
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see our friends across the pond in America share so much with Saudi Arabia. Great oil production, majority religious fundamentalism and now paedophilia.
    Who do we cheer for?
    Or is this being too harsh?

    • Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think this attitude is helpful.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        Not helpful maybe but true…

        • Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          People – atheists included – are still flocking to immigrate to America.

      • Tom
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        If only it was just a matter of changing MY attitude .

        • Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          Well, let me put things this way: we in Europe are still relying on the Americans to come to rescue, and the hostile attitude of many Europeans may make them unwilling to do so (I presume that you are an European; if you are not, I apologize).

          • TOM
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            What has this to do with child “marriage” in America?

            • Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

              The ability of people to spot outrageous phenomena depends on their culture. We Europeans are outraged by the implications of religious “freedom” in the USA, while Americans cannot understand why Europeans can be locked up for opinions. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t find it productive for an American to compare us to North Korea.

          • Randy schenck
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

            Tom is correct, this has nothing to do with the child marriage issue. But since you mention it, I would respectfully direct you to information coming directly from German Chancellor Merkel. Since the visit by our Tump, she rightly says that Europe can no longer depend on others coming to it’s assistance and they will need to plan and rethink the whole business. First Britain pulls out and then Trump. Better wake up.

            • Posted May 29, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              Randy,
              To tell Europeans to wake up is like telling an addict that he’d better come clean.

            • Posted May 29, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              My problem with Tom’s comment was that he used the fact that Americans are honestly discussing a serious problem of their society… to produce vitriolic hatred against them, hatred of the grade that I have seen enough for too many years, beginning with the morning of Sept. 12, 2001.

        • BJ
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

          It is. It’s 167,000 over a decade in a country of well over 300 million, and many could be between two minors getting married. Your whole “we’re a majority religious fundamentalist country” is an attitude only you can change, since clearly this miniscule data can’t.

          • TOM
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

            Goodness, yet another shift away from the point. PCC is suggesting the law should be changed in many states. How will changing my attitude bring this about?
            Surely satire can be used to embarrass the US or did you really think I was being serious with the comparison?
            Or perhaps I did hit a bone!

            • Randy schenck
              Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

              Here in Kansas, I think you are right on point.

            • BJ
              Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

              I didn’t know that was supposed to be satire. This is the internet, many people do think like that, and I don’t see how I would have spotted it.

    • BJ
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, we totally have “majority religious fundamentalism.”

      And has it ever occurred to you that (1) this is a total of 167,000 people in the span of a decade in a country of well over 300 millions, and (2) many of these are between two minors getting married?

      • Andy
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        You’ve made your point (2) several times. Do you have any numbers to back it up?
        The article linked by pcc seems to make the opposite point, so i suspect you are either wrong or being deliberately misleading.
        And on the misleading point, it might be worth comparing your values in (1) to the total number of marriages in the US, which I believe is more like 2 million; meaning that tens of thousands is not as negligible as you are trying to pretend.

        • BJ
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          Wait, what? I just provided numbers. What are you talking about, and what am I trying to do to mislead anyone? I’m saying the issue is not as cut and dry as things suggest and some people believe.

          • Andy
            Posted May 29, 2017 at 6:05 am | Permalink

            The number you “provided” was copied from the main post. It doesn’t support your point (2) and you know it.
            I am actually interested in the answer, but when you repeatedly make a claim without some sort of evidence, it does look like you are being misleading.

            • BJ
              Posted May 29, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

              No, it doesn’t suopport (20. That was literally the whole point, so stop breaking Da Roolz and accusing me of posting in bad faith. It doesn’t support nor deny (2). That’s the point. There is literally nothing misleading about what I’m saying.

        • Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          “The article linked by pcc seems to make the opposite point, so i suspect you are either wrong or being deliberately misleading.”

          Because an op-ed by liberal/progressive Nicholas Kristof couldn’t possibly be wrong or misleading?

          “And on the misleading point, it might be worth comparing your values in (1) to the total number of marriages in the US, which I believe is more like 2 million; meaning that tens of thousands is not as negligible as you are trying to pretend.”

          167,000 under 18 marriages out of 20 million over 10 years, (less than 1%) where the great majority are likely 16 or 17 hardly amounts to an epidemic of “child” marriages.

          • BJ
            Posted May 29, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            Thank you, Mike. I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but you’re always gracious and civil, and I appreciate that. Even when we don’t agree (which is often), you make your point and leave it at that. You don’t accuse others of bad faith.

    • Craw
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      This is an absurd comment. Pedophilia for instance has nothing to do with sexually developed adolescents. It’s just cheap emotionalist rhetoric.

  6. Greg Geisler
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Good Ol’ Texas is number 1! Why am I not surprised. And yet we’re worried about transgendered people using bathrooms.

    # of confirmed cases of child abuse/neglect in TX last year: 66,000
    # of confirmed deaths from abuse/neglect: 171
    # of cases of transgendered bathroom assault: 0

    • Posted May 28, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      Don’t worry, there will be plenty of cases.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          That sounds like people pretending to be transgender to me, and their behaviour would be illegal with or without anti-trans laws.

          • BJ
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            But while I’m on your side, you have to admit that this was a huge part of the argument on the other side. In fact, most of it. Not only that, but we have the whole phenomenon of “transtrenders” now, which is…weird. I think it’s just a way to score points on the oppression scale, since every one of them seem to be high school and college age regressives trying to make a statement.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

              As is always the case, there are extremists on both sides.

              Being transgender is rare, and it used to be rarer still for someone to come out while still in primary or secondary school. It’s good they can now. The issue used to be dealt with on a case by case basis which I personally think is fine as long as everyone is treated with respect. Trying to make laws around such a complex issue is always going to create teething problems and there will always be extremists who screw things up for the majority, again, on both sides. I personally believe it will settle down though in areas where extremists have lawmaking power such as the religious conservatives in some states, it will take longer unfortunately.

              College kids dressing in drag to get into women’s showers, for example, has always happened and always been wrong. In the current climate, that has become associated with the trans issue when it actually has nothing to do with it. As always, there are people who will take advantage of any situation.

              • BJ
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                “The issue used to be dealt with on a case by case basis which I personally think is fine as long as everyone is treated with respect. Trying to make laws around such a complex issue is always going to create teething problems and there will always be extremists who screw things up for the majority, again, on both sides.”

                I completely agree. I think it’s a way to start more culture wars, not do anything substantive.

          • Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

            One problem is that we cannot know whether a person is really transgender or is just pretending to be transgender. (Of course, we can be sure about those who have undergone surgery; I would have no problem with the new laws if they were restricted to such transgender people.)

            • BJ
              Posted May 29, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

              Never thought of that. Good point.

        • Greg Geisler
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Nice cherry-picking. Those incidents/anecdotes are meaningless unless they are placed in context (how many times does a transgendered person or person in drag enter a bathroom and NOT assault someone?). And claiming “there will be plenty of cases” based on those five cherry-picked incidents is quite an overstatement.

          That you pulled this link from the Daily Wire says all I need to know about your fact-gathering techniques and what ideology you lean toward:
          https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/the-daily-wire/

          • BJ
            Posted May 29, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            The point she was making was that it’s a legitimate concern. Furthermore, I agree with Heather: deal with the very very low number of cases on a single, case-by-case basis. No need to start yet another culture war over people who make up .02% of the population and their bathrooms in a single state.

          • Posted May 29, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

            I found the Daily Wire text by Google.

            As for the small number of reported incidents, reported abuse incidents for all sorts of abusers are just the tip of the iceberg. E.g. when I witnessed the only trans woman I have known personally to beat a cis woman for no apparent reason, I made no report.

    • cherrybombsim
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Texas legislature just passed a law this session making the legal age for marriage 18, unless a court has legally “emancipated” them. (Meaning the minor is cut off from parents and is self-supporting, like in Virginia.) It’s waiting for the governor to sign it.

  7. Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I am not surprised. I view it as a consequence of freedom of religion in the USA. Freedom of religion is a noble concept, BUT in reality it works only for sane adults. What freedom of religion have you if you are born in a fundamentalist family? Religious fundamentalists will abuse their children in various ways, brainwash them from infancy, deprive them of education to prevent them from leaving the community, marry them at age 12 etc. and the authorities will just stand by. I also suppose that after the Waco fiasco, US authorities have been unwilling to intervene in similar cases.

    • veroxitatis
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but nevertheless “freedom of religion” eventually drew the line at Mormon polygamous marriages, did it not?

      • Posted May 28, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        Which did no good because there are many Mormons who continue to practice polygamy and
        can (and have) lied about to Congress if/when questioned. They consider it appropriate to lie to non-Mormons.

      • Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        I hope so, but I am not sure. Americans must say.

    • somer
      Posted May 29, 2017 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      +1 Freedom of religion but basic human rights are more important – if its plainly abusive then it should cop the law

  8. Craw
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I think it unhelpful to call 17 year olds children. Are they just children when we, or I assume most here myself included, think they should have a right to choose an abortion even over the objections of their parents?

    • somer
      Posted May 29, 2017 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Surely thats confusing the issue of their sexual maturity and intellectual maturity. Moreover at this age the person should still be at school and has no chance of having established any sort of good job or career. If a woman, she’s doomed to dependence or poverty – if both very young they are likely to really struggle. As Jerrys NYT link showed 2/3 of these marriages split up.
      The religion influenced attitude in the US – is that
      1.sex education and contraception outside marriage should be discouraged
      2. (in many cases) young people should be made to marry if there is a pregnancy or risk of pregnancy
      3. Young marriages are fine – hang consequences for career outcomes/family earning and socio economic potential/the woman becoming dependent on the husband/likelihood of poor interfamilial relationships. More likelihood domestic violence too. Breeding comes first

      Other western countries dont have this attitude to marriage, contraception, supporting quality of life of the family (versus quantity) and bolstering life chances of young women. Women are left holding the baby if it all goes wrong. I know its hard for men too but it seems to me that fact is sometimes overlooked here.
      Also
      http://www.unchainedatlast.org

      And its not just the stereotype of the man always having to do most of the earning. I know a few career women whose husbands have been abusive – and yet they also live off their wife – for those who get away our current high court rulings in Australia heavily favour fathers access

      • BJ
        Posted May 29, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        I’d say nebn and women in high school or less have the same job prospects: the local mscdonld’s or CS.

        Other Western countries also have loswer ages of consent, the highest being 16. People don’t realy have maure brains until somewhere in their mid-20s, so I think we can’t wait that long and should follow the lead of those other countries.

        Your thought about our attitudes, howver, are spot on.

  9. BJ
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I assume many marriages involving minors involved TWO minors. Just saying. High school sweethearts are still a thing in many areas; same area where high school pregnancies are highest, probably not-incidentally.

    • Craw
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I bet that is right. This is part of why I object to lumping sexually mature and active 17 year olds with 6, 9, or 12 year olds.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        In NZ the legal age for marriage is 16, though I think you need parental consent until you’re 18.

        Parents don’t need to be told about abortion or contraception at any age.

      • BJ
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        Not just two minors, but also Romeo and Juliet relationships, where one is one to two years older than the minor. This data, considering how ultimately small it is in the scheme of things and makes no distinction between these relationships, isn’t nearly as helpful as we might like to think.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Here in Florida, the Romeo & Juliette statute allows for a four-year age difference. The minor must have been at least 14 and the sex must otherwise have been consensual (i.e., no use of force or drugging).

          The Florida statute, however, does not provide a legal defense to statutory rape; it merely allows the defendant to be exempted from registration as a sex offender. Not long ago, I helped a guy who had been convicted 20 years ago, when he was 18 and his girlfriend 15 (and before enactment of the Florida Romeo & Juliette statute), in having his name removed from the sex-offender registry.

          Romeo & Juliette statutes vary from state to state. Some states do recognize them as a complete legal defense.

          • BJ
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

            That’s a very interesting law! I don’t think someone should go to prison for having sex with someone one or two years younger than them, once the younger of the two is 14 or so (definitely no less). That is very harsh.

            • BJ
              Posted May 28, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

              The point I’m making is that (1) we should probably lower our minimum consent age to yours, and (2) even if we don’t, we have safeguards for those under 16. I imagine judicial consent is given very rarely, or we would hear much more about such marriages, as they would be scandalous each and every time. In fact, I’m further inclined to believe it’s extremely rare because I can find no stats or even info on how often judicial consent like this is given. If it was a significant problem, surely someone would have done studies on it (if there are any I missed, someone let me know).

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but let’s not confuse the two separate issues here: age-of-consent laws and laws concerning the minimum age for marrying. Parental consent (and, in most states, judicial approval) is required for minors to marry. But, once married, minors need no consent from anyone else, including parents, to have sex.

                On the other hand, parents have no authority to consent to an unmarried child below the age of consent engaging in sexual activity with anyone else.

              • BJ
                Posted May 29, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                OK, but again, are we talking 10,000 cases here, or two or three? That’s pretty important, from a pragmatic policy POV.

  10. veroxitatis
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    As long ago as the late 50s the discovery, and publicity attaching to, Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to his 13 year old cousin pretty well halted his career in the UK. Interestingly, the reaction in the Northern States of the USA was on a par with that of the UK. I guess what was fairly common in the South at that time is now pretty rare. Loretta Lyn (Coalminer’s daughter) is another example of very early marriage, and in her case followed by early pregnancies)

  11. Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Having looked into this the idea that there is no minimum is rather misleading. While technically true, in every state I checked if under 18 parental consent is required, and if under 16 parental as well as judicial consent is required, and often the circumstances are limited such as pregnancy being involved.

    • veroxitatis
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but as with a number of aspects of life it sits oddly when compared with the position in other Western democracies where there alway is a floor. In the UK it is 16 (in England, Wales and NI parental / guardian consent is a legal requirement for any party who is under 18)

      • BJ
        Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        As you said, in Enngland it is a floor od 16, so it doesn’t fit oddly, as under 16 here you need both parental and judicial consent.

        • Veroxitatis
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          I don’t understand what point you are making. In England their is a statutory floor. In many parts of the US there is no floor: instead there is parental and judicial discretion.

          • BJ
            Posted May 29, 2017 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            That (1) i doubt judicial consent is given, except in rare cases (every time it did would be an enormous scandal), and (2) we’re actually more prude than you (don’y forget all your refugees with child brides. What does they do with them?? Genuine question here).

    • Randy schenck
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      I would much rather try to fix the problem with a lot of sex education that is not allowed in American schools these day, than simply deal with the aftermath with these stupid marriage laws for children.

      • Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        “I would much rather try to fix the problem with a lot of sex education that is not allowed in American schools these day, than simply deal with the aftermath with these stupid marriage laws for children.”

        So would I, but in the meantime we have 16 year old guys getting 15 year old girls pregnant. Would you have them live together without the benefits, and protections of a legal marriage?

        • Randy schenck
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

          Well, I figure their chances of making it in a marriage of children is about 20%, so legally married or not, it does not work. Much better to spend the time and energy in prevention. In the meantime…you can do whatever you like.

          • BJ
            Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

            “Well, I figure their chances of making it in a marriage of children is about 20%…”

            May I ask where you got this figure? When I lived in the south, a whole lot of people who were now adults were married to their first and only “high school sweetheart” and had happy, healthy homes and children

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted May 28, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

              I’m not going to do the research for you. You do have access to the same internet as I. 50% of marriages in the U.S. fail. That is 41% of first marriages, 60 percent of 2nd marriages and 73% if third. When people get married who have less than a high school diploma only 37 percent of those make it. So figure out how many of these child marriages even end up with a high school education, let alone a successful marriage. I am not here to argue this point because it is meaningless. As I said earlier, prevention is when you will have success – Not finding some child marriage that is a success.

              • BJ
                Posted May 28, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                So, why make the point? I agree, let’s have sex education. But there should be no laws about who is allowed to get married and who isn’t based on statistics of rates of success/failure.

        • Craw
          Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          When I taught HS in Georgia I had such a case in my grade 11 class. At 15 a student had knocked up his gf. He was 16 when he was in my class. They decided to keep the baby, and marry as soon as possible. He stayed late most nights to get extra help.

    • Craw
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for doing the legwork to shed some light on this.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Sweden’s marriage age limit is 18 years, by law.

    Here in Sweden the discussion has rather been why local authorities do not separate immigrated married couples with child “brides” under 18 year of age from their men. (Because it is almost invariably the female which is too young.) The law is clear, but despite that some 200 or so immigrated unlawful marriages have been allowed to persist. I believe I have read that our feminist government is reacting to that.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted May 28, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Doesn’t Sweden’s private international law recognize as valid in Sweden marriages which are valid by the law of the place wherein they are conducted?

  13. Charles
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Would be interesting to see the actual rates per state, not just ranges.

  14. Gabrielle
    Posted May 28, 2017 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    I have a coworker whose mother got married at 16 to her high school boyfriend, due to being pregnant. This was in the 1960s in Ohio, and that was not an unusual practice for the time. Her mother had 4 children by the age of 23, followed soon by the father abandoning the family. Needless to say, my coworker had a rough childhood.
    Teenage marriage, which was once acceptable in the US, has now become not acceptable, as well as becoming less common. Due to the availability of birth control and legal abortion, as well as there being less stigma attached to a single woman having a child, there are fewer of these marriages.

  15. Smegma
    Posted May 29, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    A Canuck perspective. Here the legal age is 18, but marriage can be earlier (depending on province) with parental consent. I don’t think marrying under 18 is smart in general, but really it’s about context. I know people who’ve been with their partners since the age of 15 and now they’re in their 40s. In such a case them marrying at such a young age would have been fine. I also know someone from a small religious community who left partly because early marriage was pushed on her. Again, context matters.

  16. ohnugget001
    Posted May 29, 2017 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I believe the map indicating which states that have no firm lowest age is incorrect for at least one state – mine, Ohio.

    Unless my color blindness is affecting my ability to distinguish between shades properly (and it often does) Ohio is labeled incorrectly. The age of consent and ability to marry with parental permission is 16.

    • BJ
      Posted May 29, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      You are absolutely right. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a Nick Kristof article had more than one error to support his op-ed.

  17. Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Yikes. *27*??

    • Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      “Yikes. *27*??”

      I wanted to once again point out that that number is rather misleading in the same sense that it would be misleading for me to say that 45 states have no minimum drinking age. It’s illegal for purchase, possess, or consume alcohol in public, except for religious purposes, but in private with parental consent there is no minimum age.

      • BJ
        Posted May 29, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, Kristof, as he has done many times in his career, is playing games with numbers to support a narrative. It’s a reprehensible practice, not only because it doesn’t promote truth, but because it also promotes the already-staggering misunderstanding of numbers and statistics in this country. But I guess that’s the game these days, and he’s just another player.

      • Posted May 30, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        I can’t see this as being at all analogous, myself. A little drink now and then is harmless, even to children. This is every different than to sign them up to a life-altering change that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

  18. Posted May 31, 2017 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Well, I know this is untrue for Michigan. The article shows this state as having no floor for marriage. The FACTS are that people have to be 18 years old to apply for a license. 16 & 17 year old people can apply only if they have the written consent of at least one parent.
    Now I’m intrigued to find out how many other falsehoods are in this article.


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