The Alignment of U.S. Child Marriage Laws to Data and Consent: Time for a Bright-Line Rule at the Age of Majority
by Dr. Andrea Jeglum
“American concepts of childhood and marriage have changed significantly…, but our laws have not updated to codify our current understanding. Through simple legislation that raises the marriage age and closes loopholes, states can choose to end child marriage.”
~ Dr. Andrea Jeglum
In some US states, children as young as 10 are still getting married.
While the US purports to prioritize and value children, the US is the only UN member state that hasn’t yet ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and as of 2023, only seven US states outlaw minors from getting married.
In her paper published in 2021 by the Wisconsin Journal of Gender, Law & Society at the University of Wisconsin Law School, Dr. Andrea Jeglum outlines the history of child marriage, why it’s harmful to allow it to continue, and why US states need to unilaterally outlaw it.
To start, Jeglum offers a global context for child marriage and then reviews the legal history of child marriage in the US.
She also discusses the effects of child marriage—on the married children, as well as the larger context—such as the increased risk for partner violence, the negative impact on education, and the heightened risk of poverty.
Jeglum then looks at the current status of child marriage in US law (as of 2020), and the issue of consent. She also examines why “every constraint placed on the allowance of child marriage, no matter how well intended, fails to work in practice.”
Finally, she advocates for all remaining states that allow child marriage to “pass a bright-line rule with a minimum marriage age at the state’s age of majority.”
As Jeglum notes, “Child marriage and its historic purposes of protecting property rights, inheritance, and the parental right to free labor has no place in American society today. What we need today are state marriage laws that protect people, especially children.”
Jeglum, Andrea. “The Alignment of U.S. Child Marriage Laws to Data and Consent: Time for a Bright-Line Rule at the Age of Majority.” Wisconsin Journal of Gender, Law & Society 36, no. 2 (Fall 2021): 213-240.
Read more about why the US must ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Read more about why the US needs a high-level office dedicated to protecting children and advancing their rights.