Recently a Maryland pediatrician encountered something they thought was puzzling: a patient’s husband was listed as her legal guardian. The patient revealed she was married before the age of 18 to a man decades older. Her experience is not unique: child marriage is happening in Maryland.
Over 250 child marriages have taken place in the state since the legislature first tried but failed to outlaw child marriage six years ago. Currently in Maryland, pregnant minors as young as 15, along with all 16- and 17-year-olds, only need the consent of one parent.
Most child marriages occur between young girls and adult men. Indeed, Maryland has become a destination for child marriage due in part to the more restrictive laws in neighboring states, including Delaware and Virginia. The legislature has another chance this year, with a bill that would raise the legal age of marriage in Maryland to 18, with an exception made for 17-year-olds who are first emancipated.
As medical students and healthcare providers, my colleagues and I see firsthand the harm child marriage can cause. Minors who marry are more likely to develop serious health conditions including diabetes, cancer, heart attack, or stroke. Childhood marriage can lead to early, unplanned, or frequent pregnancies, putting them at increased risk of pregnancy complications.
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