It seems unthinkable that children are still getting married in 21st-century America. Yet, it’s happening in every corner of the country, regardless of state politics, popular opinion or moral leanings. And it occurs more often than we realize, to children younger than we might believe. Perhaps most shockingly, it’s happening in ways that are perfectly legal.
“Child marriage is a significant problem in America,” Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, says in an email. Her nonprofit agency promotes social, policy and legal change to child marriage, and helps women escape forced marriages. “It’s happening at an alarming rate.” According to a recent Unchained at Last study, between 2000 and 2010, in just 38 states, more than 167,000 children as young as age 10 were married — mostly girls to adult men. “The other 12 states don’t track the data, but based on the available data, Unchained estimates that nearly a quarter-million children were married in America just between 2000 and 2010,” adds Reiss.