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United States

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: Unchained at Last | Susan Landmann

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in the United States.

In February 2017, a study by US-based 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 girls married off to adult men.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys.

There is limited information on child marriage in the United States, but available evidence suggest that it is exacerbated by:

  • Ethnicity: A 2018 study found that child marriage prevalence rates were higher among children with American Indian and Chinese descent. White non-Hispanic boys were the least likely to be married as children.
  • Migration: According to the same 2018 study immigrant children were more likely than U.S.-born children to have been married. The study found that prevalence among children from Mexico, and Central America and the Middle East countries was two to four times that of children born in the United States. In the majority of cases, children from these countries were married off after they arrived in the United States.

Weak legal frameworks: There is anecdotal evidence of girls being married off to perpetrators of sexual violence so the men can avoid being prosecuted.

What has this country committed to?

The United States has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government did not provide an update on progress towards this target during its Voluntary National Review at the 2019 High Level Political Forum.

The United States co-sponsored the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights. In 2014, the United States signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

The United States co-sponsored the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage.

The United States signed, but is one of few countries not yet to have ratified, the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18. In 1980 the United States signed, but has not yet ratified, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

The United States, as a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), is bound to the Inter American System of Human Rights, which recognises the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and calls to governments to strengthen the respond to address gender-based violence and discrimination, including early, forced and child marriage and unions from a perspective that respected evolving capacities and progressive autonomy.

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

As a leading donor for international development, the United States can play an important role in the global movement to end child marriage. However, in 2017, President Donald Trump expanded the so-called global gag rule, which prohibits foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who receive U.S. global health assistance from providing legal abortion services or referrals, and also barring advocacy for abortion law reform. This will have a detrimental impact on international efforts to advance women’s and girls’ health and rights, and consequently on addressing child marriage globally.

In 2019, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the United States recalled its resource commitment to prevent both child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM), as well as its programmatic commitment to advancing equality for women and girls through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which works to address many of the factors that make girls and young women particularly vulnerable to HIV, including gender-based violence.

In March 2016, the U.S. State Department adopted the Global Strategy To Empower Adolescent Girls which includes specific provisions on ending child marriage and addressing the needs of married girls globally thanks to the ongoing advocacy of Girls Not BridesUSA.

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

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) lists some developmental assistance programmes which address child marriage in order to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The USAID Vision for Action on Ending Child Marriage and Meeting the Needs of Married Children, developed in 2012, was a strong step forward in addressing the root causes of this harmful practice. USAID’s Resource Guide outlines how the government and other countries can address child, early and forced marriage through multi-sectoral and sector-specific approaches.

The USAID Girls’ Education initiative addresses barriers to education and respond to the needs of both girls and boys by reducing gender-based violence against children and mitigating its harmful effects.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

In the U.S. federal system, state legislatures set the minimum age of marriage for each state. The minimum age in most states is 18, but exceptions in nearly every U.S. state allow those younger than 18 to marry and laws in many states do not specify any minimum age for marriage. The consent of a parent or guardian is among the most common exceptions that allow children under 18 to be married, while judicial approval is often needed for a child under age 16 to be married. Several states also have specific exceptions for cases involving pregnancy.

In May 2018, Delaware’s governor signed a bill prohibiting all marriages before the age of 18, becoming the first US state to prohibit all forms of child marriage. New Jersey followed in June 2018, passing legislation to raise the legal age to 18.

Two U.S. territories have also eliminated child marriage: American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Girls Not Brides members are building coalitions in multiple states to address the legal loopholes that allow for the marriage of minors through parental or judicial consent.


ABC News, Child brides in the US share stories of exploitation, becoming a wife: ‘I knew I was 11. I knew he was 20.’, [website], 2019, (accessed February 2020).

Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), La Infancia Y Sus Derechos en el Sistema Interamericano de Protección de Derechos Humanos (Segunda Edición), OEA/Ser.L/V/II.133, 2008, (accessed March 2020).

Equality Now, 5 Things You Should Know about Child Marriage and The Law In the United States, [website], 2019, (accessed February 2020).

Global Citizen, New Jersey Is the Second State in the US to End Child Marriage, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2020). 

Human Rights Watch, Delaware ends child marriage; 49 to go and counting, [website], 2018, (accessed February 2020).

Koski, A. and Heymann J., Child Marriage in the United States: How Common Is the Practice, And Which Children Are at Greatest Risk?, Perspect Sex Reprod Health, 50(2):59-65, 2018, (accessed February 2020).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed February 2020). 

Nairobi Summit, Empowering women and girls to thrive, [website], 2019, (accessed February 2020).

Open Society Foundations, What Is the Global Gag Rule?, [website], 2019, (accessed February 2020).

U.S. Department of State, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, [website], 2019, (accessed January 2020).

Unchained at Last, Child Marriage – Shocking Statistics, [website], (accessed February 2020).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2020).

United States State Department, Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, 2016, (accessed February 2020).

USAID, Child, early and forced marriage resource guide, 2015, (accessed February 2020).

USAID, Ending Child Marriage & Meeting the Needs of Married Children: The USAID Vision for Action, 2012, (accessed February 2020).

USAID, Girls’ Education, [website], (accessed February 2020).

USAID, Preventing And Responding to Child, Early And Forced Marriage, [website], (accessed January 2020).

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

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