On Wednesday, Delaware Governor John Carney signed into law a bill setting the minimum marriage age at 18, making his state the first in the U.S. to ban child marriage.
The law takes effect immediately. Previously, a minor in that state could get married at any age with a judge’s approval.
With the new law, Delaware is now the only state where minors are unequivocally prevented from marrying before their 18th birthday. Forty-nine other states and the District of Columbia all allow minors to marry under certain circumstances, often with parental consent or a judge’s approval.
More than 207,000 people under 18 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2014, according to a FRONTLINE analysis of marriage records. While most minors were 16 or 17 years old, some were as young as 12.
In Delaware, some 200 minors were married between 2000 and 2011, according to state health data. The majority — 90 percent — were girls.
“This is such a huge victory for women and girls,” said Fraidy Reiss, the founder of Unchained At Last, an organization that has been campaigning to end child marriage in the U.S. “In the age of the ‘Me Too’ movement, we’re finally getting our elected officials to recognize that girls have value.”
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Number of Women and Girls At Risk: 25,000
Status: Existing Legislation Needs Strengthening
Improve by adding: Prosecuting parents/guardian, felony offense