Child marriage around the world:

United States

Photo credit: Unchained at Last | Susan Landmann

Internationally there is growing recognition that child, early and forced marriage is a human rights violation and a severe impediment to social and economic development. As a leading donor for international development, the U.S. has a role to play in the global movement to end child, early and forced marriage.

In the last few years, the U.S. government’s commitments to ending the practice have markedly increased, through development as well as diplomatic work [1].

The U.S. Adolescent Girls Strategy

In March 2016, the U.S. State Department adopted the Global Strategy To Empower Adolescent Girls, which includes specific provisions on ending child, early and forced marriage and addressing the needs of married girls globally. [2]

Developed by the State Department, in coordination with USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Peace Corps, this whole-of-government strategy aims to coordinate the work and engagement of U.S. agencies to respond to the needs of adolescent girls in a holistic way.

This strategy meets the requirement of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) that the U.S. Secretary of State must “establish and implement a multi-year, multi-sectoral strategy to end child marriage.”

Other initiatives

The U.S. Government is also addressing child marriage through:

  • Let Girls Learn, a whole-of-government initiative to ensure girls are in school and address barriers to education, such as child, early and forced marriage,
  • Developmental assistance programmes at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which addresses child, early and forced marriage as part of its programming to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The USAID Vision for Action on Ending Child Marriage and Meeting the Needs of Married Children is a strong step forward in addressing the root causes of this harmful practice as is the USAID Resource Guide for how the US Government and others can address child, early and forced marriage through multi-sectoral and sector-specific approaches.

Child marriage in the U.S.

Child, early and forced marriage is an emerging problem in the U.S. In February 2017, new data by Girls Not Brides member Unchained at Last, revealed that over 248,000 children had been married in the United States between 2000 and 2010, mostly to adult men [3].

This work has helped to spur legislative action in multiple states to address legal loopholes that allow for the marriage of minors through parental or judicial consent. Bills to this effect were introduced in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Virginia.

In March 2017, New Hampshire rejected a bill to increase the age of marriage to 18 on the grounds that it would hurt pregnant teenagers and young military members. [4]

In July 2016, Virginia adopted a bill that increased the minimum age of marriage to 18. However, legislators added an exception for emancipated minors as young as 16. [5]

Girls Not Brides USA work

Girls Not Brides USA, the US national partnership to end child marriage, is an advocacy coalition that has been working for nearly a decade to elevate and prioritise the U.S. Government’s engagement on this issue globally.

The coalition is composed of over 50 organisations and is co-chaired by CARE USAthe International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC).

The coalition was instrumental in the inclusion of child marriage in the 2013 Reauthorization of VAWA and has been advocating for the “whole of government approach” that is reflected in the Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

Girls Not Brides USA developed a policy brief offering guidance to members of the U.S. government on development of a whole-of-government approach to ending child, early and forced marriage.

Girls Not Brides USA has also developed a technical brief that highlights potential strategies to delay the age of marriage and meet the needs of married children.

National Partnership in United States

Girls Not Brides USA is the official Girls Not Brides National Partnership in the United States.

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[1] Council on Foreign Relations, Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives, 2013

[2] USAID, Ending Child Marriage and Meeting the Needs of Married Children: the USAID Vision for Action, 2012

[3] The Washington Post, Why can 12-year-olds still get married in the United States?,10 February 2017.

[4] CBS, Connecticut, other states look to stop child marriages, 10 March 2017.

[5] The Washington Post, Why can 12-year-olds still get married in the United States?,10 February 2017.