Why Age 18, no exceptions- Unchained At Last

Opposition to Emancipated Minors Authorization to Marry – Unchained At Last
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We urge you to disregard these baseless claims and consider the facts:

1. Marriage before 18 – including at age 17 – produces such devastating, lifelong consequences, particularly for girls, that the U.S. State Department has called it a “human rights abuse.”1

  • Girls and women in the U.S. who marry before 19 are 50 percent more likely than their unmarried peers to drop out of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college.2
  • Women who married as teenagers are three times as likely as women who married as adults to have at least five children.3
  •  A girl in the U.S. who marries young is 31 percent more likely to live in poverty when she is older, a striking figure that appears to be unrelated to preexisting conditions in such girls.4
  • Women who married before 18 are at increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, even when controlling for sociodemographic factors.5
  •  Individuals in the U.S. who were married before age 18 report high rates of physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse during their marriage as well as unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.6
  • In other words, child marriage does not offer any benefit; it brings only harm. Anyone who argues that a vulnerable teenager in an abusive home should be married off – and thus entered into a sexual relationship governed by a contract they cannot easily get out of (as described below) – should not be allowed to use the title “advocate.”

2. Remember the crucial difference between a 17-year-old, even one who is exceptionally mature, and an 18-year-old: The 18-year-old has reached the age of adulthood.7 Even a day before their 18th birthday, a 17-year-old’s limited legal rights render them extremely vulnerable to forced marriage:

  • • A 17-year-old cannot easily leave home to escape from parents who are planning an unwanted wedding for them, as an adult would do in that situation, since leaving home makes a minor a “child in need of supervision”8 and the minor can be taken into custody by a law enforcement officer who must notify the minor’s parents and return the minor home or place the minor in emergency shelter care.9
  • A 17-year-old cannot easily enter a domestic violence shelter, as an adult would do if their parents tried to force them to marry. Domestic violence shelters routinely refuse to accept unaccompanied minors, because of the myriad liability issues minors bring.
  • A 17-year-old cannot easily retain an attorney to help them out of a forced marriage situation, as an adult might do, because most contracts with children, including retainer agreements with attorneys, are voidable.10
  • A 17-year-old cannot easily seek a protective order against parents who are coercing them into marriage, as an adult can do in that situation, because minors are not allowed to bring a legal action independently; a parent or guardian must initiate and terminate a suit on their behalf.11 A minor may seek a protective order only if they are represented by the State’s Attorney, DSS, a relative or another adult who lives in their home.12
  • In other words, for a 17-year-old who is marrying willingly and for all the right reasons, waiting a few months to marry is at worst an inconvenience. For a 17-year-old who is facing a forced marriage, those few months are crucial: They mean the difference between the horrific trauma of being forced into a marriage and raped – or reaching the age of adulthood and being able to protect themselves.

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