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State laws are failing to protect children from the devastating consequences of child marriage, according to a new report released today by the Tahirih Justice Center. The report, Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America, is the first comprehensive analysis of provisions in all 50 states and Washington, DC that leave children more vulnerable to forced marriage and the harms of early marriage. The report also details the kinds of safeguards states can adopt to help protect children, but concludes that the best safeguard is a minimum marriage age of 18 without exceptions.

“Most people are surprised to know that child marriage is a problem right here in the United States,” said Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at Tahirih and author of the report.

“With this report, we’re challenging state legislators to move from awareness to action. But we also want to make sure they understand the difference between real and superficial amendments to their laws.”

Between 2000 and 2015, more than 200,000 children under the age of 18 were married in the United States. The majority of child marriages in the United States involve girls who marry adult men. Currently, most states’ laws set the minimum age of marriage at 18 but allow for exceptions to the rule that permit thousands of children to be married every year. Among the key findings in the report:

  • Twenty-five states do not set any age “floor” by statute, allowing for a child of any age to be married if exceptions are met;
  • Only three states (Virginia, Texas, and New York) limit marriage to legal adults;
  • In eight states and Washington, DC, clerks can approve marriages of all minors;
  • Only 17 states require judges to consider the minor’s best interests; and,
  • Nine states expressly permit pregnancy to lower the minimum marriage age.

Early and child marriage has been linked to maternal and child mortality, domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking, and HIV infection. Among other long-term consequences, child marriage often interrupts a child’s education, with many dropping out of high school and facing greater likelihood of future poverty.

In 2016, with Tahirih’s leadership, Virginia became the first state to limit marriage to adults age 18 or older, with an exception only for court-emancipated minors who have been given the full legal rights of an adult. In June 2017, Texas and New York passed laws that also limit marriage to legal adults.

“Most of the children who are married in the U.S. are girls. Their full and healthy development is compromised, and their future opportunities are curtailed. Tahirih’s fight to change state laws is not only about child protection; it’s about girls’ rights and empowerment,” said Smoot.

A full copy of the report and a state-by-state scorecard of provisions that can make forced or coerced marriages of children more or less likely is available online at

Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, is available for comment on this topic. Please contact [email protected] to arrange an interview.


About the Tahirih Justice Center

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national, non-profit organization that aims to end violence against immigrant women and girls through free, holistic direct services, policy advocacy, and training and education. Tahirih serves courageous survivors of abuses such as domestic violence, sexual assault, female genital mutilation/cutting, human trafficking, “honor” violence, and forced marriage.

Through our specialized Forced Marriage Initiative (FMI), Tahirih is leading efforts at the federal and state levels to tackle forced marriage as a domestic U.S. problem impacting U.S. citizen and immigrant women and girls. Since launching the FMI in 2011, Tahirih has worked on over 500 forced marriage cases involving U.S. women and girls. For more information, visit or