DC Coalition to End Child Marriage
While some may think of child marriage as an issue exclusive to other countries, it’s an issue that also plays out right here in our own back yards.
Marriage under the age of adulthood is perfectly legal in the District of Columbia and places our children at risk of serious life-long harm.
Despite what some may assume about the nature of child marriage, the majority of child marriages in the U.S. involve an adult man marrying an underage girl. When married off to an adult, these newly-married girls enter an inherently unequal legal agreement where the law grants them far fewer rights and protections than it does to their spouse. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Research on child marriage in the U.S. shows that girls who marry underage face:
- Greater vulnerability to domestic and sexual violence;i
- Higher dropout rates: 50% more likely to drop out of high school and 4x less likely to graduate college;ii
- Increased medicaliii and mental health problems;iv and
- Increased risk of future poverty.v
Current DC law provides no oversight or protections for children facing forced marriage. A 16- or 17-year-old can be married off with nothing more than one parent’s signature. There’s no judge, no background check, no inquiry into potential abuse. The law doesn’t even require proof that the minor themselves consent to the marriage.
What’s worse, children can be married in DC regardless of whether they actually live here. Every state on the east coast, from Maine to Florida, has passed a law addressing this issue.vi These reforms have spread west as well—you’d have to drive to Illinois before reaching an unreformed state with a law as weak as DC’s. Places that fail to reform, like DC, are increasingly at risk of becoming destinations for exploiting children through marriage.