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This article was originally published on January 27, 2023.

The Tahirih Justice Center has released two new reports that underscore the urgent need to take action against child marriage in the United States. These reports reveal alarming new data and call for long overdue legislative action at the state and federal levels to protect all children from the harms of child marriage.

“The United States is a host of contradictions when it comes to protecting children from the lifelong harms of child marriage. Despite our vocal support of human rights around the globe, our current state laws and federal immigration laws both sanction and facilitate child marriages happening in our own backyard. This must change,” said Casey Carter Swegman, Director of Public Policy at the Tahirih Justice Center. “Child marriage on U.S. soil is no less harmful than child marriage occurring elsewhere, and we must treat this issue with the same urgency here as we do when it happens abroad. Our children deserve better.”

Comparing Compromises: Varying Impacts of Laws that Limit, But Do Not End Child Marriage analyzes data from states that have recently passed a reform to limit child marriage. The report compares the effectiveness of “compromise” legislation – laws that fall short of eliminating marriage under age 18. When complete elimination of child marriage is not possible, the research found that limiting marriage to legal adults, with a robust judicial process, offers the most protection. States that implemented this type of reform saw up to a 96% reduction in child marriage. Other compromise laws were far less effective at preventing child marriages, showing us that the impacts of these reforms vary greatly and there are critical differences hidden in the details of legislative text.

In Time to Lead: The Federal Government’s Role in Ending Child Marriage in the United States, Tahirih highlights the critical role that the federal government must play in our fight to end child marriage here at home. It demonstrates how our current immigration laws put minors across the globe at risk of experiencing child marriage in this country. The glaring gap in our immigration laws that set no minimum age for a foreign beneficiary to a spouse or fiancée visa has allowed shocking cases to proceed, including those in which U.S. men in their 40s and 50s successfully petitioned for girls as young as 14 years old. This report outlines concrete steps that the federal government should take to address child marriage through the immigration system and incentivize states to strengthen their marriage age laws.

In 2017, Tahirih released the first comprehensive analysis of marriage-age provisions in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. that allow child marriage to happen legally across the country. The report, Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America, provided state lawmakers and advocates the information they need to pass laws that will protect children from marriage. While considerable progress has been made since the report’s release, there remains much to be done. Through our efforts in the movement to end child marriage in this country, we have worked with survivors of child marriage across stateliness that have courageously come forward seeking to change the laws in their own backyards. Their stories can be read here.

For media inquiries, please email Karla Flores at [email protected].

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national, nonprofit organization that serves immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. By amplifying the experiences of survivors, our mission is to create a world in which all people share equal rights and live in safety and with dignity.