Who Supports Child Marriage?

February 27, 2019

Anna Bryan

The US State Department has declared child marriage a “human rights abuse”. The United Nations spells out an end to child marriage under Sustainable Development Goal 5 on “Gender Equity.” Target 5.3 reads “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations.”

This evidence makes the case against child marriage clear. Child marriage harms girls and we need to end it. Who is advocating to keep child marriage legal in the United States? Are the pro-child marriage set small special interest groups or is their broader support for child marriage in the United States?

Child Marriage has a cultural history in the United States. Archaic laws on the books stem from colonial times when getting married at a younger age was more common. In many states, these laws have not been updated to reflect the free agency of women and women’s rights that have evolved since women won the right to vote in 1920. Women now have more choices and rights including access to education and career paths. These options were generally not available to women during Colonial times. Current state laws should reflect the light years of progress that women have gained in the last century.

Some supporters of child marriage seem small and advocate for a small minority of cases. The Children’s Law Center of California told lawmakers that its clients have chosen to marry so their children would be born and raised by married parents, or as a way to get out of the foster care system, according to a legislative analysis.

Conservative Religions support child marriage. The most conservative wings of many religions support child marriage as a way to uphold religious values and uphold cultural norms. In Conservative religious cultures, marriage is the answer to unplanned pregnancy in minors. It legitimizes the pregnancy and the relationship between a child and adult, despite the consensual status of the relationship. Many state laws allow for child marriage if a minor is pregnant with parental consent and/or judicial approval. However, the parental consent clause often means children are being coerced into marriages they do not want. The legal exceptions for pregnant minors enforce patriarchal norms that overemphasize purity and virginity while shaming unmarried mothers.

Opposition from Unexpected Places. We would not expect opposition to banning child marriage to come from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. However, that is exactly what has happened. Advocates and law makers were successful in ending Child Marriage in Delaware and New Jersey. The precedent has been set and we will advocate for equal legislation in California.

Pro-Child Marriage advocacy claim marriage is a fundamental right and there are legitimate reasons for minors to marry. Is marriage a fundamental right? Do parental rights and cultural rights supersede human rights? Not at all. The United Nations encompasses Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the same sentence in Target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. For many years the opposition has justified FGM as a parental right or a cultural right. We have heard that argument before.

In October 2017, California enacted three bills to protect minors in the justice system including extending Miranda Rights to children ages 15 and under. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry supported the bill citing that children’s brain development, specifically the area related to reasoning, continues to mature well into early adulthood. Children and adolescents “differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions,” the academy stated in its letter in support of the bill.

We suggest the same evidence should be submitted to support legislation to end Child Marriage. The age for marriage should be 18, no exceptions. Global Hope 365 advocates for the rights of children to make life altering decisions such as marriage at age 18 or older.

Global Hope 365 is active in the community and dedicated to the advancement of women’s and girl’s rights. We are organizing, fundraising, strategizing and advocating, and of course learning more each and every day on how to transform the landscape in Orange County, California, the US and around the world. Your donation is helpful, but your time is invaluable. You are invited to connect with us and join our efforts.

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