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Is the US Behind the Global Curve?

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

February 13, 2019

Anna Bryan

To date, the issue of child marriage has not been recognized as a significant human rights issue in the United States. In 2018, Delaware and New Jersey banned child marriage with no exceptions. These state laws were the result of steadfast activism. However, a law to ban child marriage in the state of California did not succeed in 2018. In the United States, child marriage is viewed as an issue that happens in “other countries” while 48 US states allow children, some as young as 11, to be legally married by way of parental consent and/or judicial approval.

When will the United States come to grips with its child marriage problem?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be the global publicity required to turn the tide in the US.

As of January 2016, when the SDGs came into effect, all 193 members of the United Nations had signed on to adopt the goals. The SDGs set a broad and bold agenda to meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world. The goals set clear and distinct targets in 17 areas to be met by 2030. Child marriage is included under Goal 5 “Gender Equality.” That means there will be global attention on the negative effects of child marriage on the victims including physical, mental and emotional abuse. The SDGs also highlight how goals to empower women are interrelated and support other goals such as quality education and economic growth.

The SDGs have now been in effect for three years. How is the progress? The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 offers positive news on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Rates of child marriage have continued to decline around the world. In Southern Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood has dropped by over 40 percent since around 2000. However, UNICEF notes progress must be accelerated to meet the 2030 targets set by the SDGs.

Norway, Syria, and Pakistan have adopted legislation to ban child marriage with no exception. Can the US follow suit? The United States generally views itself as a global leader in human rights. We view inhumane and old-fashioned practices such as child marriage as practices that happen in third world nations. In the US, there are significant cultural and legal hurdles to overcome. The first attempt at a ban on child marriage in the state of New Jersey was vetoed by former Governor, Chris Christie on the basis that it violated religious freedom. A similar bill in California, faced opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that it would intrude on the fundamental right to marriage and could be ineffective in stopping coercive relationships.

Given the global attention of the SDGs, child marriage is a practice the United States can no longer ignore. To continue to allow this practice in the US is not only archaic, but also hypocritical as the US State Department has cited child marriage as a human rights violation.

At Global Hope 365, we hope the momentum of global efforts by both the public and private sectors to achieve the targets of the SDGs will support change in the United States. As a world leader, the full eradication of child marriage in all 50 US states should occur way in advance of the target date of 2030. At Global Hope 365 we will be advocating at a local level to spread awareness and bring California and the United States in line with global standards on human right and gender equality.

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