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Why America still permits child marriage

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Perhaps the restriction should be: you can get married while still under 18, IF you become an "emancipated minor."**
To do that, you have to go to court and
1) show that you are at least 12 years old,
2) show that you have the financial resources to support yourself, and
3) convince a judge that you can be reasonably expected to behave like a responsible adult. A common piece of evidence is to have been living on your own for 6 months, while keeping a roof over your head, eating regularly, getting to school reliably, etc. (Unlike the first two, which are hard legal requirements, that isn't a required means of demonstrating responsibility, just a common way to convince the judge.)
Once you do that, you are regarded as an adult for legal purposes. Not only could you get married, you could file for divorce, sign rental agreements and other contracts, authorize your own medical care, etc.
** This was devised as an alternative to foster care for teenagers who were capable of taking care of themselves.

jouris in reply to ashbird

Actually, of the two individuals that I know personally who were emancipated minors, one was abused, and the other "merely" neglected. At least they had a way to get out, and were able to cope with doing so.

ashbird in reply to jouris

It is sad that the route of "legal emancipation" has to be taken for some of these kids. Ideally, the parents and their positive role modeling is the best nurturing "soil" in which to "grow" a human. But there are times when what is ideal cannot be had; instead, in its place, something at the opposite end of the pole. When the issue becomes immediate physical safety, and the kid is far from majority age, there is no other means to protect the minor short of emanicipation provided the kid is emotionally mature to function as an adult. Oddly, many "minors" who grow up, assuming intact mental capacity, in violent and disruptive households manage to grow up "faster" and enter emotional maturity "faster". They survive the abuse and are "smart" in many ways, and have learned to be self-reliant. In those cases, with a detailed psych report of a Board Certified clinician, and information provided from the social worker who works with and knows the kid and the family, a judge, upon his/her own assessment of the kid, can arrive at a mostly "correct" decision to allow the emancipation. At this point, the kid, as a legal adult, has all the legal rights of a legal adult, as well as responsibilities (for example, if he/she commits a crime, will be tried as an adult, and if convicted, the offense will not be epounged from his/her record b/c now the "juvenile" period is over).

jouris in reply to ashbird

the kid, as a legal adult, has all the legal rights of a legal adult, as well as responsibility and encumbrances/responsibilities
That bit about responsibilities is, I think, critical. Lots of teenagers complain about not being treated as adults. But they are inevitably focused on the rights, as they see them, that adults have. The idea that adulthood is actually all about responsibilities rarely seems to penetrate. But it is also why more of them don't even consider making the attempt at emancipation. (I don't know if a judge would sign off on emancipation for someone who had actual, not abusive or neglectful, parents available. But I can imagine circumstances where it might even arguably be appropriate.)

ashbird in reply to jouris

That's right, jouris!!!! Being an adult is about owning and taking responsibility for one's owner actions. Not about perpetually shifting responsibility to a convenient target of the day, or, better yet, changing the subject altogether by whipping up the most incredible mind-spinning tales and falsehood and pretend outrage at trumped up charges of conspiratorial enemies ("Hillary eats babies for breakfast. Kill her, Kill her", or "Obama is a closet Muslim and is behind all the Terrorists, therefore undo everything Obama did in his 8 years, including throwing out all his clean air and evironmental protection policies", and, no need for funding to stem the spread of infectious diseases, after all, the Zika virus is a Democrat hoax", etc., etc, etc. ....)
Reminds me of a person who is through and through a juvenile but leader of the richest and most powerful country in the world. By no stretch of the imagination could he claim to be a legal minor.
The willingness to take responsibility and accountability for one's own action (which requires no lying, no denying, and no pulling wool over other people's eyes) is the marker of an adult. Nothing short of that.

jouris in reply to ashbird

Actually, I think that's more like "Obama was mean to me. (Therefore he is a closet Muslim and is behind all the Terrorists.) So undo everything Obama did in his 8 years, including throwing out all his clean air and evironmental protection policies. That'll show him!"
Isn't that just how a child reacts? Lash out blindly at whoever was mean, without a thought for what that might do to anyone else.

ashbird in reply to jouris

Quite so. Quite so, jouris! I think you are closer in your description than I.
It is so so so weird!!
And this bit about "You have a button? So do I, and bigger and better!" I mean, how old is the mind that spouts and spurts things like that??!!
And no one here now made that up!! Indeed, no one could make it up if they tried!! He posted the stuff for all the world to see!! All on record!!
And his supporters would run to defend him, by doing any number of the following things: (1) He didn't say that, "Progressive Liberal Socialist Communist Dandruffed Pale-faced Mentally-Ill Bookworms" made that up; (2) If he said it, it is within a President's "Plenary power" to say things like that, all the better with no thought given to it; (3) He is going to make everybody rich again, including the coal miners if they don't lose their lives to black lungs or "reduced safety" coal mine shafts. OR, go back to the "tried and true" for ducking and dodging. To wit: (4) Hillary is a lesbian and guilty of nepotism on top, let's look at that (while Big Hand plus Junior Big Hand plus Son-in-Law Big Hand plus First Daughter Big Hand do not constitute nepotism); (5)Taxing billionaires less = the bottom feeders will get richer; (6) Saudis have no hand in Jihad because they like Harley Davidsons and own big Yachts.
I still think these weird guys are the minority. Most people are NOT dumb. In fact, most people are smart. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all people all the time.

ashbird in reply to jouris

PS: jouris, you must forgive me for using the Edit key to correct errors often more than once, if it works. I am sure it is very annoying to the receiver. I am a very very poor typist. Your forbearance is greatly appreciated.

Enders Shadow

The use of statistics in this piece, assuming correlation as causation in the long list of negative 'effects' of childhood marriage, was very poor; at the very least the piece should have removed the effects of poverty in causing these effects.
Ultimately however the problem is that there are some 17 year old who should be enabled to marry, and some 30 year olds who shouldn't. The present system of allowing early marriages if a court or the parents allow it SHOULD, in an ideal world, address the issue. The fact that it doesn't, with an 80% divorce rate, suggests that there is an issue. However it would be interesting to know what the 'married at 18' divorce rate is, and what the effects of poverty, being pregnant at the time of the marriage etc are on divorce rates. Ultimately the question is whether marriage is better than merely having the young people 'shacked up' together; that's a far harder question to answer, and may result in some different conclusions, justifying their being allowed to marry.

CaptainRon in reply to Enders Shadow

Certainly the fact that they have limited prospects if they haven't even finished high school yet and are expected to set up a household is a great part of that poverty issue.

I think the other question has to do with teenage pregnancy in the first place which could be avoided with better sex education. Abstinence only is not education.


It's a double edge sword, I think I've known five couples that were married younger than 18, all were normal, and all married due to pregnancy. One girl I knew in high school when she became pregnant new she couldn't deal with her crazy religious parents and decided to get married because that would allow her to be emancipated and she could make decisions that she wanted to make concerning her child.
If you keep people from getting married you are going to create as many problems as you try to solve. It probably makes sense to limit the age to 16 and up, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For some young people getting married fixes a lot of problems. I knew a number of people in the military who are in their 20s at the time and told me that they were married when they were teenagers, they were happy well-adjusted people. I make it a point to stay out of people's business, and telling two 17year olds especially if one is pregnant they can't get married from my experience just seems like a dumb idea; I guess I just seen too many stories work out okay.

Mike Hoy

"Around 50% more of them drop out of high school, and they are four times less likely to finish college. They are at considerably higher risk of diabetes, cancer, stroke and other physical illnesses. And they are much more likely to suffer from mental-health problems".
These are not the consequence of child marriage but the physical and mental characteristics of the dregs of American society that marry as children (and whose parents encourage it).

Joe Marlowe

"Social conservatives argue that early marriages can reduce births out-of-wedlock as well as the number of single mothers on welfare."
As if the problem of girls giving birth at age 16 is "births out of wedlock".

Where do these people keep their brains?
Do they have any brains at all?

Allan Edie in reply to Joe Marlowe

What brains? How will unjustifiable marriage cure the problem of initial statutory rape?? The "logic" behind preventing births "out of wedlock" beggars belief.

On the other hand, there is the fantastical delusion behind the religious belief tangled in much of this mess. Why would more critical thinking apply to the issue of early marriage?


I'm advocating absolutely NOTHING here one way or the other, (I am very unmarried, a 'Private' Jesuit) but in terms of debate, rhetoric, and journalism, this is a flagrantly heated one-sided article considering what % of the global population are not outraged with this issue.
Q: Has there ever been in human history a February ~ November marriage in which both female and male parties benefited win/win-mutually, happily, consummately, and the female, after the male had given her his best and passed on, May He Rest in Peace, went on, no matter whether you happily agree or disagree violently, to be healthy, wealthy, wise, popular, and loved, not to mention famous?
Please Answer here: _____________________. (no curve on grading;-)
Ok, ready for the outrage. Come on, but remember, I'm only writing about history, and not advocating one way or the other. NO, No Nooo! Got that? My name is just Chip, NOT Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. OK?


This is an interesting article, which highlights many of the interesting paradoxes we find in American, and indeed Western, society today.
Often, opponents of marriages between adults and teens will say, "It's wrong and must be banned because someone under 18 cannot legally give consent to sexual relations or marriage."
Yet, teenagers have sex all the time with each other and nobody suggests arresting them for doing so.
And typically, when that point is raised, opponents will say, "They can consent to sexual relations or marriage but only to someone who is either similarly underage or is an adult within three years of their age."
But surely that invalidates the argument that someone can't legally consent because they are underage, does it not?
If one is deemed old enough to consent to sexual relations with one person, surely they are old enough to consent to sexual relations Period.
At the same time, we have a ruling from the Supreme Court saying that 15 year-old girls have a right, not only to an abortion but legal access to birth control without parental notification, which raises the question of how someone could be old enough to give legal consent to birth control and abortions without parental consent BUT not old enough to give legal consent to sexual relations or marriage.
Adding to that confusion is the new practice of giving puberty-blocking drugs to 10 and 12 year-olds (even some as young as 8), who claim to be transgender - because we all know that changing one's sex is not as serious or life-changing a decision as having sexual relations or getting married?


So, of all of the social issues to which TE chooses to devote ink, this is the one? Getting close to cancelling my subscription...


Why persons under 18 are arbitrarily defined as "children"?
The concept of teenage was invented recently (I believe in early XX century). It is 100% artificial.
The article lists some problems on early marriages, but that doesn't means that child marriage causes it.
Neither is being older than 18 any guarantee against any problem mentioned. If marriage is the cause, then older people than 18 should also been banned from marriage.
If people over 18 are entitled to another paliatives, the why younger than 18 should't have the same rights/help?
Banning "child" marriage will never prevent pregnancies. It would be far more intelligent to stop demonizing early pregnancy, and to start sanctioning people harming young parents. That's' the same as harming minoritites, and is the source of a lot of problems with young pregnancy. People shame them and then point the finger at the shame as the reason to shame them.


It seems this is more a problem in the UK than the USA:
Most of it is probably Indian and Muslim immigrant parents contracting their daughters to be married while they're still in the womb.

Enders Shadow in reply to Langosta

Ah - the joys of cultural imperialism. The fact that some deeply flawed cultures abuse the possibility of marriage under 18 doesn't mean that it is always wrong, it means that forced marriage is wrong. We are faced with two radically different cultures; one where the average teenager is out of the effective control of their parents, the other where teenagers are totally controlled by their parents. Trying to create a law that will work for both is a nightmare!


According to some churches, a marriage isn’t real until it has been consummated.

One way of reducing the child marriages is to not having children consummate relationships.

Good bueracrats they are- The Economist is worried about paperwork while arguing to the end that the activity that makes a marriage real cannot, and possibly should not, be prevented.

WT Economist

Up until what age should people be prohibited from having sex? And how should the age of marriage compare with that?
See the problem?
I don't think people in their late 20s or 30s should be marrying those under the age of 18 -- or having sex with them. And marriage below the age of 17 doesn't look good. Sex below the age of 17 is also ill advised. Should the government advise merely advise against it, or prohibit it with punishment for those who transgress?
But among high school dropouts, and among high school graduates whose birth year makes them relatively young for their class, the 17 year olds may have completed their education, marrying their high school sweetheart who is 18. That is an entirely different thing.