Many Americans are surprised to learn that every U.S. State allows minors to marry and that, as a result, every year many minors are forced by their own parents into unwanted marriages. UNICEF and other international human rights community leaders have emphatically defined 18 as the minimum age at which a person might possess the requisite physical and psychological maturity to meaningfully comprehend the responsibilities and consequences of marriage, and to give free, full, and informed consent to marry. As a result, more and more countries are amending their laws to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage. In a recent BNA Bloomberg article, Too Young to Tie the Knot, GJI Co-founder/Director Julia Alanen calls upon federal and state officials to take a firm stand against forced and early marriage in the USA:

States’ antiquated marriage laws, designed to prevent
minors from marrying against their parents’ wishes,
frequently fail to prevent parents from forcing their
children into unwanted marriages … The responsibilities
and potential consequences of marriage are simply
too grave and enduring to be assumed by any means
other than the free, full, and informed consent of two
adults. State legislators should be urged to reform their
state’s’ marriage laws so that kids can no longer tie the
knot.

In its Foreign Affairs Manual, the U.S. State Department emphatically denounces forced marriage as ‘‘a violation of basic human rights’’ and, where a minor is involved, ‘‘a form of child abuse, since the child will presumably be subjected to non-consensual sex.’’ Former Secretary Clinton routinely champions the cause overseas, and the U.S. Agency for international Development (USAID) recently dedicated $4.8M in foreign aid to combat child marriage. The thrice defeated International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, proposing U.S. action to eradicate early marriage in developing countries, included neither provisions nor parallel legislation to tackle the problem here at home. As the United States takes measures to combat harmful marriage practices abroad, we must lead by example by acknowledging and addressing harmful marriage laws and customs within our own borders.

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