Girls as young as ten are among more than 200,000 children wed to adults in the United States in just the past 15 years, as — despite minimum requirements a person reach the age of 18, or legal adulthood, nationally — a smattering of locations have preserved loopholes legally permitting child marriage.

Alarmingly, the number of children married away to fully mature adults could be much higher than the already-startling number — ten states provide only fragmentary statistics, or none at all.

And the loopholes don’t exist solely in theory — adults across the U.S. have actively opportuned the law to marry kids — even amid a decline in the number of marriages, overall.

To wit, three 10-year-old girls and an 11-year-old boy were among the hundreds of thousands of children and minors the system somehow permitted adults to lock into marriage — despite their bodies and minds not yet being fully developed.

“At least 207,468 minors married in the US between 2000 and 2015, according to data compiled by Unchained At Last, a group campaigning to abolish child marriage, and investigative documentary series Frontline,” The Independent reports.

Exemptions from the national marriage minimum age of 18 exist for circumstances like pregnancy and parental consent — in every state in the country.


However, record-keeping remains inconsistent across the country, and details regarding the nature of child marriages — if unintended pregnancy made the union tenable, for instance — usually aren’t included.

Indeed, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — citing conditions such as religious customs — bore the brunt of furious criticism recently for refusing to sign into law restrictions barring children under the age of 18 from tying the knot or entering a civil unions.

“I agree that protecting the wellbeing, dignity, and freedom of minors is vital,” Christie placated an irate populace, upon refusing to codify the law in early May, “but the severe bar this bill creates is not necessary to address the concerns voiced by the bill’s proponents and does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this State.”

Unchained At Last Founder and Executive Director Fraidy Reiss — herself, an albeit older victim of forced marriage — told Frontline that, upon first obtaining child marriage statistics for New Jersey, where her organization is based,

“I got that spreadsheet from the state health department, I was literally shaking.”

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Data for the state revealed just under 3,500 youth — largely 16- and 17-year-olds — wed adults between 1995 and 2012.

“That number was so much higher than I had thought it would be,” Reiss told the PBS program. “Then, the fact that the children were as young as 13 and the fact that it was mostly girls married to adult men.”

Across the U.S., insufficient data still show the number of marriages involving minors and children dropped by 61 percent in the decade between 2000 and 2010 — but even that figure could be wildly inaccurate without further information readily available.

Lest doubt take root, these figures haven’t been bloated by an excess of youth permitted to marry other youth — fully 86 percent of marriages analyzed with available data involved adults wedding kids under 18.

Frontline reports,

“The youngest children to marry were three 10-year-old girls in Tennessee in 2001, who were married to men ages 24, 25 and 31, according to state data. The youngest groom was an 11-year-old boy, also in Tennessee, who married a 27-year-old woman in 2006.

“Children as young as 12 were granted marriage licenses in Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

“Thirteen-year-olds were given the green light to marry in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.”

Around the United States, adults — as old as the 74-year-old Alabama man, whose bride was six decades his junior — ostensibly committed to lifetime relationships with three 10-year-olds, two 11-year-olds, ten 12-year-olds, fifty-one 13-year-olds, and 985 children aged 14.

Of course, individual states’ legal loopholes don’t necessarily jibe with federal mandates pertaining to marriageable age — not to mention the gross breach of social mores and protections for children.

Frontline suggests this odd and astonishing discrepancy — if not outright hypocrisy — leaves cavernous gaps in consistency of law:

“Most states set the age of sexual consent between 16 and 18. A person can be charged with sexual abuse or statutory rape for having sex with a minor. Yet, we found numerous examples of children who were given marriage licenses before they could legally consent to sex. These marriages were almost always approved by court clerks and judges.”

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Advocates working to close gaping loopholes caution that age cannot necessarily be the primary indicator of a distressing betrothal.

“A large age difference is an automatic red flag, but a small age difference is not an automatic green flag,” attorney Jeanne Smoot, of the Tahirih Justice Center, which works to eradicate all marriages involving minors, told Frontline, adding authorities rarely pursue charges against adults in marriages to kids, as “the same acts that would be statutory rape outside of marriage are made lawful within.”

Most states allowing adults to take a child spouse require the consent of one or both parents, permission from a judge, or some combination thereof — however, there is a rather astonishing footnote to this underbelly of marriage and child love in the United States.

Frontline notes,

“In 26 states, there’s no minimum marriage age, according to the Tahirih Justice Center. Children in those states can get married at any age if certain conditions are met.”

Claire Bernish began writing as an independent, investigative journalist in 2015, with works published and republished around the world. Not one to hold back, Claire’s particular areas of interest include U.S. foreign policy, analysis of international affairs, and everything pertaining to transparency and thwarting censorship. To keep up with the latest uncensored news, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @Subversive_Pen.
  • Randy Rowe

    16-17 who cares long as the guy is not a ton older but fuck 10 wht the fuck… people need to be shot…

    • Damiana

      Yeah, but the guy is ALWAYS “a ton older.” I bet fewer than one child marriage in ten actually involves two teenagers in love with each other. Even when it’s two kids, most of the time they’re being forced to marry each other by fundie parents who “want to make an honest woman out of her.”

      • Dan Quixoté

        I’ve only seen it done right once, between a girl and a man she really liked. Which is the exception that proves your rule. And her parents made them wait until she was 18 anyway.

  • Damiana

    Child marriage is a SHAMEFUL facet of any culture. I think it’s pretty telling that we don’t trust children to drink, drive, vote, sign contracts, run away from an abusive home, or basically do ANYTHING but the second some nasty old pervert wants to call “dibs for life” on a sweet little piece, noooooooowwwwww we suddenly “trust” her to make the most important decision in a person’s life!

    Child marriage is nothing more than legalized pedophilia, full stop. It enables abusive psychos to “lock in” their victims from an early age and nothing about our patriarchal society is interested in diminishing that privilege!

    • We are Anonymiss

      It used to be that the age of consent in USA was 10 years old.

    • Dan Quixoté

      Agreed. If getting hitched seems like such a persistently great idea, wait until you’re both legal. The only exception I can think of, if it had ever applied to any of my sons or daughters, is if they were close in age and there was a kid on the way, and if a number of other conditions were met, too. Otherwise, NO.

      • Damiana

        I think pregnancy is the worst possible reason to get married, though. That way, if the marriage turns out to be a miserable wreck, it’s all on the damn kid to keep it together and somehow “redeem” the marriage. Trust me, I know what it’s like to be the reason your idiot teenager parents got married – mine were 17 and 19 when I was born, surprisingly robust for a “preemie.”

        • Damiana

          And yes, my parents spent a MISERABLE eight years together, having two more kids before they split for good. They should have never gotten married – I honestly think my childhood would have benefited without that stupid formality.

          • Dan Quixoté

            Sorry to hear that. Thanks for sharing. It took my wife and I 20 years of hardship before we even started to learn to love each other rightly. It *is* tough on the kids.

          • Damiana

            *grins amiably* “…my wife and me

          • Dan Quixoté

            Damiana, you don’t get to make me doubt my grammar for a few seconds like that and get away with it 😉 I checked my reference guides and confirmed my original notion that since we were the operative subjects of the verbal predicate “started to learn to love each other rightly”, it is indeed “My wife and I.” Had we been the recipients of the action of a verbal predicate, it would have been “my wife and me”. “It took… 20 years of hardship…” is a parallel contextual construction.

          • Damiana

            I was taught a bit differently – can the pronoun stand on its own without the other noun? If not, then it’s probably not right. I’ll ask Drew.

          • Dan Quixoté

            That’s my default test, too. The conflating issue I created was the use of the colloquial “It took…” construction in parallel. In formal writing I’d never use that conversationally normalized construct, exactly because it creates that type of ambiguity. Grammar should be simple, and in formal writing I try to keep it that way, unlike commenting on the Internets.

          • Andropov

            I think you are correct that “my wife and me” is only correct as the object of the sentence.

          • Damiana

            If Drew says you’re right, then kudos! He’s the only person I know (personally) that I’m almost sure might be smarter than me. It’s not often that I learn something new about grammar, so thanks for not letting my ignorance slide!

          • Frank Cassese

            Lol you’re to funny….LMAO

        • Dan Quixoté

          I won’t act offended, because I agree about it being the worst reason to get married. Yet I owe my own existence to generations of out-of-wedlock pregnancies resulting in marriages. So do my kids. Part of the fallen human condition, unfortunately. As my father counseled/consoled me once, “Marrying for love is highly overrated.” There were a number of meanings behind that, not all of them negative. The culture among our kinfolk is to enlist help from kin and God to make it work – no divorces in my family line, that we know of; some of the marriages turned out happy, others just toughed it out. Trying to keep my unmarried kids from the same challenges, so far so good. And I’ve got some brothers who actually got it right in this regard. Half those marriages are happy, half aren’t. Good points you bring up.

          • Damiana

            Marrying for love is rather overrated. That’s what fucking and living together are for. If people could do that in peace without the interference of sanctimonious busybodies, marriage could be reserved for and treated like the serious business that it is… instead of serving as an excuse to fuck and live together.

            Frankly, I don’t think anyone should be allowed to get married until they’ve lived together for five years.

  • Joke’s off the year.😁

  • Dan R Francis

    Some of us believe in killing pedophiles like these. And I have a LOVELY desert back yard just chock FULL of cholla cacti….

  • Dan Quixoté

    I joke about having married a teenage girl, but she was legally adult at the time, and I was less than a year older. This issue is no joke. Not cool, for all the reasons folks bring up.

    I’ve seen this done right only once. A 26yo and a 16yo at the church of my youth took a shine to each other. He was on his own and seemed a bit of an undesirable. She was from a really good family. Somehow they knew enough to ask her rightly concerned parents to coach them through it, which they did. Long story short they married when she was 18 and he was 28. When she was finally an ADULT. The parents gave them more pre-marital supervision, coaching and counsel than most couples will ever get. Even so, they’ve gotten to “enjoy” all the normal marital stuff we all do. But they’re still married, decades later.

  • I wonder how the stats break down by Christians, Muslims, Mormons, atheists, etc.

  • David Katz

    You supposed to update for Texas to banned child marriage. You need to careful for research and update news!

  • John Bumphus

    When I began paralegal Family Law Studies in 2003, Vermont had a law which allowed a marriage-type commitment by adults to children as young as 7 years of age.

  • junktex

    Mormon cult

  • daggo77

    so sick that kids are being subjected to these vile unions, instead of protecting them from predators. men are sickos nowadays.

  • Sally McWoozy

    How can this be anything other than wrong?