New Federal Legislation Will Curb Thousands of Child Marriages in the U.S.

Senators introduce legislation that would eliminate an immigration visa loophole that enables child marriage. AHA Foundation calls on supporters to take action and voice your support. 

AHA Foundation is excited to report that U.S. lawmakers have drafted legislation to close a loophole in federal immigration law that enables thousands of child marriages in the United States. This law will tackle child marriage directly and counteract the exploitation of our visa system.

There is technically no minimum age requirement to sponsor or receive a spousal immigration visa. A recent bipartisan report released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee provided startling statistics that show just how many children have been married as a result. Between the years 2007 to 2017 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), the agency that oversees the country’s immigration system, approved 8,686 spousal or fiancé(e) visa petitions that involved a minor. Among these minors, girls were the younger party 95 percent of the time. Read more about the report here.

Following the release of the report, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) were swift in their response. Last week, they introduced legislation that would close this loophole by prohibiting spousal and fiancé(e) immigration benefits if a visa petition involves a minor under the age of 18.

“A bill to protect children through eliminating visa loopholes”  text can be found here.




Current visa guidelines contain weaknesses that have facilitated thousands of child marriages without interruption. As the laws currently stand, when reviewing a financé(e) petition for approval, USCIS needs only to consider whether a petitioner’s age at marriage violates either the laws in the foreign place of celebration, or the marital policy of the state in which the couple will reside. Currently, only two states – New Jersey and Delaware – have completely outlawed marriage below the age of eighteen. All other states allow minors to wed under codified exceptions that include cases of pregnancy, judicial approval, or parental consent. Moreover, though the legal age to marry in many foreign countries is set at 18 years of age, legal exceptions, varying judicial interpretations, and localized policies render most baseline age requirements moot.

The messaging of the proposed legislation is clear – the vulnerable must be protected and child wellbeing should be of utmost consideration when setting age restrictions for marriage-based visa petitioners. This bill addresses child marriage directly by establishing an unqualified minimum marriage age requirement of 18 years old for approval of marriage-based immigration benefits. This baseline restriction is the most viable solution in preventing child marriage through the exploitation of the U.S. immigration system.

Maintaining a position of zero tolerance for child marriage is the only acceptable course of action. We must close this immigration loophole. Adolescents who marry face added legal and practical barriers in finding help out of unwanted or abusive marriages. They are also more likely to face harmful outcomes including increased likelihoods of living in poverty later in life, disease onset, and spousal abuse. In a situation of forced marriage, a family may use this loophole to promise American citizenship in exchange for a marital agreement. Similarly, an immigrant child may be brought to the U.S. against her will to be married.

Thwarting child abuse and the misuse of our immigration visa system is not a partisan issue. We hope legislators from both sides will come together to support this legislation, which establishes additional safeguards for children, both immigrant and U.S. citizen alike. This law will be one very necessary development in the journey to end child marriage throughout the country.

A visa to enter the United States is a privilege, and this straightforward reform will help close a loophole that can lead to the abuse and exploitation of children…I hope my colleagues will join me to advance this common sense legislation.

– Senator Ron Johnson

We are now urging our supporters to act. Concerned citizens everywhere should contact their Senators and Representatives and urge them to support this legislation. These laudable, common sense efforts to protect children, regardless of national origin, should be celebrated and supported.

If we take a stand together, we will succeed. Lend your voice to those who have been silenced by this human rights abuse, and send a message to your lawmakers that ZERO TOLERANCE of child marriage is the only worthwhile solution.




  1. The AHA Foundation says:

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I am glad to hear that your marriage worked out. The reality is that you are the exception, and not the rule. Thousands of children are married off every year to abusive relationships. Minors cannot enter into legal contracts, and marriage is a serious legal contract. Studies show that children marrying before the age of 19 are at an increased risk of so many mental and physical health problems. This law would protect both genders, male and female, from forced and coerced marriage, so it cannot be sexist.

  2. Elizabeth M says:


    I’m a woman married to a lovely man from Italy for several years now. We met when I was 13, and he was 29. He proposed to me, and my parents allowed us to marry. We settled in the Northeast, and we have 3 lovely children (and a dog!). I am horrified to think that our lives together would have been ruined if this law was passed before we were married.

    How would you feel if the love of your life was not allowed to create a beautiful family with you, with the blessing of your parents, because of the federal government (dominated by men who want to control female choice)? I would hope like me, that you shudder at the thought of destroying your human right to experience happiness and peace with your family. That is what this law will do to countless thousands of women, adolescent and older.

    In today’s world, we must do whatever we can that works for families. A good marriage is a good marriage, regardless of age. Many women who married younger have a good marriage. We don’t hear about these women because they don’t make for good media sensation stories. Please don’t destroy the ability for future women to have a good marriage. Don’t support this sexist, terrible law!

  3. Ann says:

    Thank you AHA for bringing this child protection issue to our attention. “Protecting Children Through Eliminating Visa Loopholes Act” was introduced in both the House (H.R.1738) and Senate (S.742) and has not been voted on yet.

    Only those who support exploitation of children would view this bill as a “roadblock to immigration.” Current federal law permits forced international child marriages that frequently result in trafficking and abuse of children in the United States. Child marriage is allowed between U.S. children and foreign adults, or U.S. adults and foreign children, because no minimum age is specified and international child marriage “customs” are not regulated by the United States. Passing this bill would prevent minors (95% girls) from being married to (often MUCH OLDER) adults by closing visa loopholes. The proposed bill would protect children by amending existing law to add that only adults (“at least 18 years of age”) can apply for fiancé or marriage visas. This is a step in the right direction to protect children, both here and abroad, from being forced to marry in our country.

    The proposed bill is short and takes only a few minutes to read:

  4. Sonya Healy says:

    Date All Actions
    03/28/2017 Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
    Action By: Senate

    It looks as though this Bill has died. Is that so?

  5. Sylvia Argilla says:

    I agree with Kelly who wrote to say it would be best if you displayed the bill so we can read it. Noting that it has been drafted by 3 Republicans, I wonder if this bill is really another roadblock to immigration. And child marriage is a horrid choice for child refugees, or anyone. So maybe a bill against child marriage should not be limited to those who seek visas.

  6. Kelly says:

    I think it would be better if the bill was displayed and also a draft of a letter to send the rep. This is too complicated because I do not have time to read the bill as much as I want to and because I do not know what it actually says I feel uncomfortable sending a letter o the Senator.

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