The legal age for marriage affects youth throughout the U.S.

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While most states in the U.S. have set the legal age for marriage at 18 years old, teens and children as young as 12 can be married off with parental consent. Even though most diplomats promote an end to underage marriage in other countries, there is not a single state that has passed a law forbidding this practice in the United States.

“Some 248,000 children were married in America between 2000 and 2010, according to Unchained at Last, a U.S. nonprofit group called that helps girls and women rebuild their lives after forced marriages,” said CNN. “Some were as young as 10.”

Recent studies show that over 45 states do not have a legal age for marriage. Furthermore, there are only three states—Virginia, Texas and New York (which only recently raised the age minimum)—that have a minimum age of 18 years old. Another huge problem with child marriage is that marriage licenses are not only allowed with parental consent, but also by many state courthouses, meaning that children can be married off with judicial approval as well. Many people who have come forward to other newspapers about their own personal experiences explained that they were unaware that being married off at a young age was abnormal.

“American girls who marry before 19 are 50 percent more likely than their unmarried peers to dropout of high school and four times less likely to graduate from college,” said the Chicago Tribune.

There is another aspect of underage marriage that is frightening: more than 20 percent of all females are married off to men significantly older than them. The age gap can be so large that these newlyweds are more often than not actually breaking statutory rape laws within the state, which in some states such as Idaho, can be up to 25 years in prison. Idaho is a state that allows marriages under the age of 16 with judicial and parental consent. Even though statistics done by Unchained at Last show that the amount of underage marriages were cut almost in half during the years of 2000 to 2010, this is still a prominent issue in the US and around the world.

“More than 207,000 American minors were married between 2000 and 2015, according to an investigation by Frontline, a television programme,” said The Economist. “Over two-thirds were 17 years old, but 985 were 14, and ten were just 12. Twenty-seven states have no minimum age for marriage.”

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The legal age for marriage affects youth throughout the U.S.