Technically a child is a minor until the age of 18 and is not able to legally give consent. But there isn’t any type of watchdog group or investigation into whether a child is marrying willingly. The United States does not even have a federal law against forced marriage. The practice of child marriage is not uncommon and it’s estimated that nearly a quarter-million children as young as 12 married in the US between 2000 and 2010.
Shockingly, 91 percent of the children were married to adults, often at ages or with age differences that could have triggered statutory-rape charges. Recently a story reemerged in the news of an 11 year old girl in Florida who was forced to marry her 20 year old rapist to avoid impending rape charges. The young girl ended up pregnant as a result of the rape, and her family and the officials at her church decided the simplest way to avoid a messy criminal case was to organize a wedding. The marriage didn’t work out and much like 70 percent of child marriages—ended in divorce. Leaving the girl, a single teenage mother with young children to care for and only an elementary school education.
The thousands of young girls in America pushed into early marriages suffer the same negative consequences as those in developing countries. These include negative effects on health and education and an increased likelihood of domestic violence. In a global study, women who marry before 18 are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who wed at 21 or older. In developing countries, child marriage is most prevalent in the most impoverished and rural regions. But in the United States, child marriage transcends religion, geography and socio-economic backgrounds. Regardless of their background, underage girls face the legal difficultly of leaving a marriage as a minor.