Blog

Child marriage remains legal in 48 states. Delaware and New Jersey recently passed legislation that prohibits marriage before 18, with no exceptions. Find more information about child marriage here.

Dr. Alissa Koski is an Assistant Professor at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She has a Ph.D in Epidemiology and focuses her research interests on the social determinants of women’s health and well-being in low-income countries. Recently, her work has focused on measuring the prevalence and consequences of child marriage in rprib-Saharan Africa and the United States. Dr. Koski’s latest work is a co-authored piece called “Child Marriage in the United States: How Common Is the Practice, And Which Children Are at Greatest Risk?” In it, she explores how common child marriage is in the U.S. and who is most at risk.

AHA Foundation: What first inspired you to research the topic of child marriage in the U.S.?

Dr. Koski: I originally began studying child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa and while researching efforts to prevent the practice in that region, I learned that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have the same laws in place as most of the states in the U.S. The minimum age is set at 18, but exceptions can be granted. I was shocked that child marriage is still legal and happening in wealthy countries like the U.S. I then set out to measure how common child marriage is in the United States and to draw attention to the fact that child marriage is a global issue that is not restricted to developing countries.

AHA Foundation: Did any of the research findings surprise you?

Dr. Koski: We were very surprised to learn how few of the children married before 18 were living with their spouses and how short many of the marriages were. Only 1 in 5 married children in our study were living with their spouse and nearly a quarter were already separated or divorced before their 18th birthdays.

These findings highlight that for many children, marriage does not lead to stable partnerships or the formation of independent households. It also raises important questions regarding the motivation for these marriages. More research is needed to understand what drives child marriage in the United States and the lived experience of those marriages.

..only 1 in 5 married children in our study were living with their spouse and nearly a quarter were already separated or divorced before their 18th birthday.

AHA Foundation: How prevalent is child marriage in the U.S.? How does the number of child marriages in the U.S. compare to other developed countries?

Dr. Koski: We estimated that more than 78,400 children who lived in the United States between 2010 and 2014 were married. This is equivalent to approximately 0.6% of all children between 15 and 17 years old in the U.S. at this time.  Those numbers are likely an underestimate as some child marriages may not be reported. 

It is difficult to compare the prevalence of child marriage in the U.S. with that of other wealthy nations because very little information on the prevalence of child marriage in developed countries is available. The vast majority of attention to this issue is focused on developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia; however, many wealthy nations continue to legally permit the marriage of children under the age of 18. The WORLD Policy Analysis Center at UCLA has collected information on minimum age-at-marriage laws from countries across the world. Maps illustrating their findings are available here.

Children of all backgrounds are married in the United States; it’s not a practice that is limited to specific groups.

AHA Foundation: What U.S. population is the most at risk for child marriage?

Dr. Koski: Children of all backgrounds are married in the United States; it’s not a practice that is limited to specific groups. We found that children born outside of the United States were at greater risk of marriage than their peers who were born in the country. Children born in Mexico, Central America, and the Middle East were most at risk but we are not sure why that is the case at this point.

AHA Foundation: Do you think child marriage will become illegal in all 50 states? If so, what will it take?

Dr. Koski: The recent passage of laws in Delaware and New Jersey that prevent the marriage of persons under the age of 18 sets an important precedent and may encourage other states to follow suit. Increasing coverage of child marriage in the media may also help to draw public attention to the issue, which pressures lawmakers to change current policies that continue to permit child marriage.

My work has been used in legislative discussions and by non-profits working on the issue to provide data supporting the need to end child marriage in the U.S. I hope my research will continue to drive the fight to end child marriage.

________________________________________

AHA Foundation advocates in the United States for a hard minimum age of marriage at the age of majority in each state, which is typically 18, with no exceptions.

September 20, 2018

The U.S. Keeps Turning a Blind Eye to Child Marriage at Home

Child marriage remains legal in 48 states. Delaware and New Jersey recently passed legislation that prohibits marriage before […]
September 19, 2018

Doctoral Student Calls Out a Dangerous Gap in U.S. Psychology Programs

Sheriece Hooks is currently a student in clinical psychology, and holds both a M.A. in clinical psychology from […]
September 4, 2018

AHA Foundation Builds Bipartisan Coalition, Urges Congress to Add Protections Against FGM to VAWA

This summer, the AHA Foundation formed and led a bipartisan network of women’s organizations and survivor/advocates to push […]
August 28, 2018

Another Case of Honor Violence Takes Lives in Texas

To respect confidentiality of the survivor, those imaged above are neither the perpetrator nor survivor described in this […]
August 24, 2018

Critical Thinking Unit Counters the Dangerous Echo Chamber of Ideas at U.S. Campuses

Julia O’Donnell joined the AHA Foundation as Critical Thinking Unit (CTU) Campus Program Coordinator in late 2017, during […]
July 19, 2018

Child Abuse Expert on Pediatrician’s Role in Preventing Female Genital Mutilation in the United States

Dr. Frasier is an internationally recognized child abuse expert. As one of few medical experts in the United […]
July 17, 2018

Dr. Manea Exposes the Mainstreaming of Islamism

PD. Dr. Elham Manea is a Yemeni-Swiss Associate Professor specialized on the Middle East, a writer, and a […]
June 25, 2018

AHA Foundation Campus Program Fellows Promote Free Thinking on U.S. Campuses – One Event At A Time

Madeleine Hubbard is a rising junior at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign studying Journalism and Political Science. In […]
June 19, 2018

Critical Thinking Unit Fellow Wins FIRE Award

We are proud to announce that Critical Thinking Unit (CTU) fellow Natalie Bao Tram Le, of Harvard University, […]
June 18, 2018

Survivor of FGM, Assita Kanko, Fights for Human Rights for Everyone

Blog is based on past interviews and conversations with Assita Kanko. “Loneliness, the smell of the place where […]
May 25, 2018

Why Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation in the U.S. Must Be a Bipartisan Effort

 Representative Chang with the bipartisan group that worked to pass Michigan’s anti-FGM legislation. The AHA Foundation is unfortunately […]
May 18, 2018

Why A “Ritual Nick” Is a Smoke Screen for Female Genital Mutilation

At the AHA Foundation we emphasize the need for a zero tolerance approach to ending FGM. There is […]
May 2, 2018

Stand Up for Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation

Last year, the FBI arrested a doctor near Detroit who allegedly cut the genitals of as many as […]
April 25, 2018

Radicalized As a Teenager, Dr. Manea Now Exposes Dangerous Islamist Tactics Targeting Youth

Dr. Elham Manea is a Yemeni-Swiss Associate Professor specializing in the Middle East, a writer, and a human […]
April 25, 2018

AHA Foundation Therapist on Her Clients Journeys to Overcome Stigma and Fear of Seeking Help

Every month, dozens of people reach out to AHA Foundation for help. They are people who have survived […]
March 28, 2018

Penn State Students Fight to End FGM From Their Classrooms

A group of talented and determined students from Penn State’s Dickinson Law have taken up the challenge of […]
March 27, 2018

A Survivor Shares: When Female Genital Cutting Occurs, Childhood Ends and Trauma Begins

** Please note the photo above is a stock photo and not a photo of the survivor. It […]
February 20, 2018

By Educating Legislators Across the Nation, Alex Still Helps Protect Girls in the U.S. from FGM

AHA Foundation: Alexandra Still is our Program and Policy Associate. Alex researches cultural practices that harm women and girls in […]
February 20, 2018

AHA Foundation Campus Program Fellow Breaks Silence About FGM at Vassar College

Grace Roebuck is a sophomore at Vassar College studying Psychology and is a Critical Thinking Unit (CTU) Fellow, […]
February 20, 2018

Muhammad Fraser-Rahim Counters Extremism From Within

  Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director of North America for Quilliam International. He is an expert on […]