States are raising the age of consent to protect children from forced marriage. No state has gone as far as Delaware.
Child marriages are more common than you think. Roughly 200,000 minors have gotten married since the start of the century. Nearly 90 percent of those child marriages involve a young bride, under the age of 18, and an older man -- sometimes decades older. Under such circumstances, says Arizona state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, “it’s not difficult to think of all the potential abuses.”
Legislators have heard testimony from women who were forced to marry their rapists when they were as young as 11. There have also been scattered reports of marriage being used as a tool in child trafficking. Ugenti-Rita sponsored a new law, enacted in April, which banned marriages for children under the age of 16, while requiring 16- and 17-year-olds to receive permission from their parents. When a minor is getting married, the age gap between the bride and groom, under the new law, can be no greater than three years.
Advocacy groups such as the Tahirih Justice Center and Unchained At Last are pushing states to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18, without exceptions. Last month, Delaware became the first state to fully ban child marriage, even with parental approval. But it’s proving to be a tough sell elsewhere. Lawmakers have shown themselves open to imposing higher age limits and to adding safeguards for minors allowed to marry, such as parental consent. Florida and Kentucky both passed laws this year raising the floor for child marriages to 17 and 18, respectively, following similar actions taken since 2016 in Connecticut, New York, Texas and Virginia.