Child Marriage as a defense to Rape or Sex Offenses still stands in 40 states:

Statutory Rape and Child Marriage Tahirih Policy Brief

Tahirih Justice Center:  The Alarming Disconnect Between Age-Based Sex Offenses and Minimum Marriage Age.

Many states’ laws permit individuals under age 18 to be married based on either parental consent alone, or in some cases, judicial approval. But abusive or unfit parents can easily sign off on a child’s marriage to a predator, effectively “no questions asked, ” and judicial proceedings are often bare – bones, lacking critical vetting and safeguards.

Recognizing these acute concerns, since 2015 twenty – five states have enacted changes to their minimum marriage – age laws to end or limit child marriage, and more reforms are pending. Yet most states’ laws still fall far short of the protections that are truly needed. Before now, the disconnect between states’ marriage – age and statutory rape laws has been cited only anecdotally .

This policy brief for the first time comprehensively compares and analyzes laws on age – based sex offenses, age of majority, and minimum marriage age. It aims to expose that the consequence of states’ left – hand (civil laws) and right – hand (criminal laws) operating inconsistently is not just incoherence.

What the left hand ignores , and the right hand excuses , can actually operate together as a stranglehold on a vulnerable girl, trapping her in lifelong, devastating harm.

Selected key findings:

  • Majority of States Involved: In the majority of states , despite recent marriage – age reforms, a minor could still be married to someone with whom sex outside of marriage would be a crime . The analysis below yields just thirteen states where the answer to the question is definitively “no,” and only a handful of additional states where the answer is “probably not.”
  • Marriage can provide a statutory defense or exception to prosecution for statutory rape and/or other age – based sex offenses in at least 40 states 2 and the District of Columbia. Marriage also provides a statutory defense to prose cution for “sexual abuse of a minor or ward” under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 2243)

Download the Tahirih full Policy Brief: (PDF)

Sample Data Table:

Child Marriage and Statutory Rape Laws by State

Tahirih Justice Center