Delaware became the first state in the union to render all forms of child marriage illegal when Gov. John Carney (D) signed a bill this week authored by Rep. Kim Williams (D).
The state had already set its legal marrying age at 18, but included a common exception: teens could marry if a parent petitioned the court and the court approved it.
That exception, advocates for the new law say, opens the door for adults to force marriage on teens.
“When a child is forced to marry, the perpetrators are almost always the parents,” said Fraidy Reiss, executive director of Unchained, in an email sent after the bill was signed. “And a child who is forced to marry also is forced to lie to the court about it, so the judicial approval requirement did not protect children.”
“Now that we have closed this loophole in Delaware law, children will be protected from forced marriage and its dangerous consequences,” said Williams, the bill’s author, in an interview with local radio station 105.9 FM. “I am so proud that Delaware is leading the way to protect children, and I hope that other states follow suit.”
A 2017 report estimated that between 2000 and 2015, there were 200,000 people under the age of 18 married in the United States.
“In Texas, nearly 4,500 children were married in a single year, and from 2000 to 2014, a staggering 40,000 children were married,” reads the report. This number included children as young as 12 and 13 years old.
The report also found that 25 states do not set any age floor by statute, meaning those states have no lawful minimum age for marriage.