Falling Through the Cracks: New Report on Child Marriage in America

Donna Pollard entered an Indiana mental health facility at the age of 14. Two years later, she was married to a 31-year-old man who had been one of her counselors at the facility.

Her mother consented to the marriage, and Pollard dropped out of high school before she could start her sophomore year. Her husband quickly became her abuser, and when Pollard tried to leave him she was unable to rent an apartment for herself and her young daughter because of her age.

She wasn’t old enough to sign a lease on her own.

A new report released this week by the Tahirih Justice Center in Virginia outlines marriage laws across the country, providing context for the implications of these laws.

“With this report, we’re challenging state legislators to move from awareness to action. But we also want to make sure they understand the difference between real and superficial amendments to their laws,” said Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for policy and strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center and author of the report.

Titled “Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in America,” the report estimates that 200,000 children under age 18 were married between the years 2000 and 2015 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. In eight states and Washington, D.C., clerks, without judges, can approve marriages of all minors. Nine states permit pregnancy to lower the minimum marriage age.

Only three states – Virginia, Texas, and New York – limit marriage to legal adults.

In some states, such as Maryland, a pregnancy exception means a pregnant minor can be married before she’s old enough to legally consent to sex. And in Florida, as reported by the New York Times, an 11-year-old girl was forced by her parents to marry the 20-year-old who had raped and impregnated her.

“Often children who marry underage are trauma survivors,” Pollard said during a press briefing on Tuesday.

According to a press release about the report, early marriage has been linked to a number of negative outcomes, including domestic and sexual violence, maternal and child mortality, dropping out of high school and facing a greater likelihood of future poverty.

Access the full report here.

This story was updated to correct the location of the mental health facility. 

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Christie Renick
About Christie Renick 124 Articles
Tucson-based vice president of Fostering Media Connections. Follow @christiejrenick.