Should Child Marriage be Legal?

The marriage of a child is a practice that is surrounded by controversy. To allow a minor to get married is to open them to higher chances of abuse and potentially let grown people out of the legal ramifications for rape charges; but to refuse a minor the right to marriage is infringing on a citizen’s right to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” which is promised in the Declaration of Independence. Along with being a blatant denial of freedoms this could also be viewed by some as the government’s control over its citizens, regardless of the true intent behind any action.

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Regarding this topic there are two main sides.. One side believes child marriage should be 100% illegal with no loopholes or special circumstances. If the couple wishes to be wed so badly, marriage can wait till both parties are 18. While the other side believes there should be a way for young people to get married before the age of 18 because there are special circumstances that the law should not impede. Regardless of the stance taken the term Child Marriage is alarming. Society’s looking into ways to alter the practice not to be seen in a developing nation could be beneficial. In a U.S. college edition dictionary there is no mention of child marriage or a child bride, in The World Dictionary there is the term child bride, the lack of awareness is also a cause for concern this is a situation taking place in the U.S. therefore all citizens of the U.S. have a stake in the issue. The term “Child Bride” is a term not associated with an American girl yet the practice of child marriage is closely related in some circles. There are too many inconsistencies across state lines so at the very least there should be consistency among the nation. Children should not be robbed of their childhood but citizens should also not be denied their rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The practice of child marriage cannot be stopped without undermining certain rights but the practice also cannot continue to harm young people who end up in these situations that are not consensual or safe. Due to this reasoning it is important to find a solution that gives young people what each side believes is freedom and a chance to live the life best for them. Even though the major viewpoints differ greatly a compromise can be made.

Fig.1. Source: Tsui, Anjali. “Married Young: The Fight Over Child Marriage in America.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 14 Sept. 2017, www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/married-young- the-fight-over-child-marriage-in-america/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.

On one side, many people believe the practice of child marriage is endangering children and robbing them of their childhood. Fig. 1 depicts a nine year old bride, Eunice Winstead Johns, and her twenty six year old husband, Charlie Johns. There is no question as to whether or not Eunice was a child at the time of her marriage, and it can be seen that the photo dates itself as a relic of the past by being black and white so like the photo many believe that a child marrying an adult is an outdated tradition. To follow such customs can be viewed as nonsensical when the current ideologies are not as bleak, like the photos of today which contain the many colors of modern society. Many people on the same side also believe a person getting married under the age of eighteen is a recipe for abuse. According to “Why America Still Permits Child Marriage” it is said that “Married children are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to be beaten by spouses than are married adults.” Given that these minors are not adults and most likely do not have much experience in any type of relationships, these children may not be aware of the severity of the situation they have been placed in. If a person lacks experience they will not know the steps needed to take in order to remove themselves from this type of situation. If the young person is aware of the severity they will be effectively trapped in the union, being under the age of eighteen that child will be unable to file for divorce or flee to a shelter designed for people in abusive relationships. It can be argued that this type of “marriage” only serves one purpose which is to trap young people and turn them into victims whose only option is obedience for their own safety. On this side, people also believe when marriages take place so young it is only by the child being forced into it. “Child marriage survivors often say they were forced to marry against their will, particularly if they were pregnant…” according to, “Leave Us Kids Alone: A Look at Child Marriage in the US and Beyond.” A person under the age of eighteen cannot marry without the consent of one or more parents but maybe the parent is a cause of the issue. In other countries arranged and forced marriages are more commonly known and set up by the parents so the same thing can be and is taking place in the U.S. currently. To allow for this loophole is dangerous and the parents involved can be viewed as irresponsible for shirking their responsibility of taking care of the child till adulthood. Arranged marriages is considered to be a long standing tradition in many cultures and there is nothing wrong with such an arrangement as long as all involved have elected to do so. With the case of a potential spouse being underage there is no way to measure the true views of any minor without their fear of being reprimanded behind the closed doors of the family home. If proof that any union is consensual cannot be provided neither should any legal proof a of marriage be awarded. As a result the possibility of children getting married is a mute point.

On the other side, some people see getting married under the age of eighteen as a way for a young person to move into a new season of life and signify their journey into adulthood. They view reasons for marriage as just for the sake of love as circumstances that warrant an early in life union. There are young people who are emancipated and wish to marry. Sometimes there will be a couple that wishes to marry before one party involved turns eighteen because one person is in the military and they wish to form a union before their partner ships off. To outlaw child marriage, teens would be denied the chance to be with someone they love in a legal union when they are arguably young and mature adults but still legally a child. In the words of Otterstrom, “Emancipated minor children are freed from their parents’ control, as they are deemed totally independent and legally able to make all decisions about their own health, education, and welfare.” A blanket age requirement with no exceptions would block emancipated minors from getting married and that would strip them of their legal ability to make their own decisions. Throughout the nation’s history the marriage of people under the age of eighteen has existed, marriage is about maturity as well as love and tradition. In Berman’s findings there is a “wide-ranging history of child marriage from the colonial period through the present.” In an interview, Ice stated, “We were young but we were both mature and I was through with school so it seemed like the right time..” Age is a number, as cases for emancipation show, some people grow up much quicker and might be more mature at the age of 15 than some people are at the age of 18. If a person can take care of their self and essentially divorce from their parents or if they are able to prove that they are mature enough to begin the leg of their life through marriage, they should be allowed to marry if they so choose.

Regardless of the stance taken this issue needs to be acted on in a manner that pleases both sides through their common ground. Both have a vested interest in making sure children/ young people are given opportunities that allow them to thrive while still being safe. Another common value is both sides want consistency, within the U.S. because according to Blankley there are 25 states without an age minimum and most states have different legislation in place allowing for loopholes under the Full Faith and Credit Clause. The Full Faith and Credit Clause is essentially what makes weddings in one state still binding in another, so if one state has stricter laws those laws can be bypassed by way of a wedding in a state that’s laws are more lenient. The option of marriage should be available to minors in all states in order to stop underage wedding hubs, but this must be done with safeguards in place. These potential safeguards include a federal minimum age even if the child has parental consent, giving minors the rights of adults once married so they may take legal action like a divorce if their situation is not beneficial, judicial discretion in the decision, and thorough evaluations of potential spouses such as extensive background checks to safeguard abuse before it can happen in a union. A federal minimum of sixteen should be put in place regardless of circumstance. “Marriage Laws around the World.” shows global policies and a common minimum is sixteen with parental consent/ and or permission from the courts and eighteen without the consent of a guardian. Some of these countries include: Australia, Austria, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Chile, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Italy, Jamaica, Latvia, Malta, Paraguay, Poland, and Russia. According to Sandstorm, “most countries (153 of 198) require that people who want to marry be adults…But many of these same nations have some kind of exemption to this requirement.” At the age of sixteen the United States starts to give minors some rights of passage such as driving, and the legal right to seek emancipation at this age. This monumental age is better perceived as a beginning to adulthood so adding the prospect of a minimum age for marriage to this age would line up with other possibilities already allocated to young people. By removing other types of exemptions the law will be made more rigid and easier to enforce across the board. Making the marriage process lengthier and having more evaluations will better protect young people. In Tsui’s podcast there is a case in which a judge named Ken Boulden who denied a marriage license is because the girl was fourteen, instead of denying the couple this judge arranged for them to come back in a weeks time when he then had the police waiting to apprehend the twenty seven year old want to be groom for statutory rape. Judge Boulden’s decision potentially saved this child from a forced marriage, if the process is further extended more people will be stopped because there will be ample opportunity for officials to step in when the situation is unfit. A lengthier process also makes minors question their decision, if a young person does not find it worth it to put forth time and effort to get married with stricter policies they would have potentially not been able to make through a marriage because that too would take an exorbitant amount of time and effort.

By allowing for minors to marry there is a risk of people forcing adolescents into marriages to protect rapists from statutory rape charges. There is also a possibility of the rapist being able to groom the victim into working towards a marriage process so it does not seem forced and the child in question would be done the wiser. The child would just be putty in their “lover’s” hand to be molded and taken advantage of. Depending on the state, the age of consent varies, so a marriage could take place at an age before intercourse is legally considered consensual which would be paradoxical. And as a result further legal action regarding any potential rape case might be dropped by the state due to the jumbling of jurisdiction. This is already happening, and it is happening to people younger than sixteen, to implement a federal age minimum regardless of circumstance would potentially help a lot of children who are brought into these situations. A new set of legal proceedings including the aforementioned safeguards might also take these accusations into consideration before a marriage license is handed out halting the process altogether for people in these instances.

Fig. 2. Source: Ledante, Alex. “The Scandal of Child Marriage in the United States.” Virily, 21 May 2018, virily.com/lifestyle/the-scandal-of-child-marriage-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2019.

The wellbeing of children is a cause for concern for all in the U.S. The youth of today will control the future so the way they are treated eventually will affect the future for all of America, so they need to have provisions that keep them safe but also allow for freedoms. As seen in Fig. 2, both the ideas of marriage and childhood are complex so it is important to find a solid marriage between both sides of this issue that does not short change any aspect. The practice of child marriage cannot be stopped without undermining certain rights but the practice also cannot continue to harm young people who end up in these situations that are not consensual or safe, therefore in order for a minor to wed there must be new safeguards to protect the minor while giving them the freedom to be married. Safeguards should include: a federal minimum age even if the child has parental consent, giving minors the rights of adults once married so they may take legal action like a divorce if their situation is not beneficial, a maximum age for an adult marrying a minor, and thorough evaluations of potential spouses such as extensive background checks to safeguard abuse before it can happen in a union. With the solution proposed there will be consistency within the United States. If the proposed standards set in place the United States will be elevated from a practice that currently correlated with and being fought in developing nations. Changing of proceedings will once again help America be a world leader, and more importantly it will chart a course in which its youth will be given a chance to thrive.

Works Cited

Berman, Cassandra N. “American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States by Nicholas L. Syrett.” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 38, no. 3, 2018, pp. Fall 2018. 578–580., doi:10.1353/jer.2018.0065.

Blankley, Bethany. “Analysis: Child Marriage Is Legal in 49 U.S. States.” Watchdog.org, Watchdog.org, 25 May 2018, www.watchdog.org/national/analysis-child-marriage-is-legal-in-u-s-states/article_fbefbf04-5d0e-11e8-b6e6-cb9d5643bc13.html. Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.

“Child Bride.” World Book Dictionary, 2001 ed., World Book, 2001, p. 354.

Ice, Marilyn R. Personal Interview. 24 Mar. 2019

“Leave Us Kids Alone: A Look at Child Marriage in the US and Beyond.” Irish Examiner, 15 Dec. 2018, www.irishexaminer.com/breakingnews/specialreports/leave-us-kids-alone-a-look-at-child-marriage-in-the-us-and-beyond-892211.html. Accessed 13 Mar. 2019.

“Marriage Laws around the World.” Pew Research Center, 2016, assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2016/09/FT_Marriage_Age_Appendix_2016_09_08.pdf. Accessed 13 Mar. 2019.

Otterstrom, Kristina. “Emancipation of Minors: Children’s Right and Privileges.” Emancipation of Minors: Children’s Right and Privileges – Lawyers.com, 2019, https://www.lawyers.com/legal-info/family-law/childrens-rights/emancipation-youre-on-your-own-kid.html. Accessed 13 Mar. 2019.

Sandstrom, Aleksandra, and Angelina E. Theodorou. “Many Countries Allow Children to Marry.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 12 Sept. 2016, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/12/many-countries-allow-child-marriage/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2019.

Tsui, Anjali. “Child Marriage in America.” the Frontline Dispatch, OETA, 14 Sept. 2017.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/podcast/dispatch/child-marriage-in-america/ Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.

“Why America Still Permits Child Marriage.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 3 Jan. 2018, www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2018/01/03/why-america-still-permits-child-marriage. Accessed 24 Feb. 2019.

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