Raise the Minimum Age to Marry in the United States to 18 Years Old

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Did you know that child, early, and forced marriage occur in the present day United States? Imagine showing up to your county clerks office with your parents, who are signing a marriage license application and forcing you into a marriage at 16 years old, despite your sobs and clear opposition to this marriage. Unfortunately, these scenarios in which young girls are forced into marriage in their teenage years occur quite frequently in the U.S. today, but are often ignored and unaddressed.

Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before 18 years of age. In most states, the minimum age to wed is 18 years old; however, in each state there are several exceptions to this law allowing children to get married prior to 18, including parental consent and judicial approval in certain states. Parental consent can often be forced, yet coercion into marriage is rarely, if ever, investigated, as forced marriage is not technically breaking a law in many states.

Recently, New Hampshire's state legislature refused to repeal the child marriage law that allows girls to get married at the age of 13. Similarly, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, rejected a law that would have made exceptions to child marriage illegal as it "would violate the cultures and traditions of communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions." Christie and New Hampshire's state legislation failed to address that child and forced marriage violates girls' basic human rights. Had these exceptions to marriage been outlawed by state legislation, we would have been one step further to ending child marriages in the United States.

Child marriage disproportionately affects more girls and women, but can still affect boys as well. Girls are forced or coerced into marriage, often at the expense of her physical safety due to the increased risk of violence in these relationships, reproductive and sexual health, and future educational and economic opportunities.

By signing this petition, we are asking for your help and support to end child, early and forced marriage in the United States. Through this petition, it is our hope to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of child marriage in the U.S., and then propose legislation to our local state and national governments to outlaw all exceptions to child marriage and make the minimum age to marry 18 years old.

Thank you,

Penn State's BBH/NURS 452 Team
(Megan, Casey, Andrew, Hannah, & Bailey)