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The majority of engagements last 14 months, according to a 2014 study by The Knot. But some weddings take far less planning and come with far more controversy. In Maryland and elsewhere in the U.S., child marriage is still perfectly legal, but state Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, a Democrat from Howard County, is fighting to end this.
As the law stands, it is legal for a child to marry at age 15 in Maryland if they receive parental consent and “the woman to be married” is pregnant or has a child. If the betrothed is 16 or 17, then only one of the conditions must be met.
Records show that over 3,100 minors were married in the state between 2000 and 2014. Five of these children, in fact, were under the age of 15, but there are no records that show just how old they were. A total of 69 of these marriages were conducted following cases of statutory rape.
There are records of children as young as 12 being married in the U.S. between the years 2000 and 2010. In total, there were roughly 250,000 documents of children married during this timeframe.
Fraidy Reiss, the founder of “Unchained at Last,” a nonprofit that works to end child marriage in America, says that the majority of these marriages are between young girls and older men. When collecting child marriage data, it was found that 12 states and the District of Columbia do not keep data regarding child marriages.
In 2016, the state of Virginia updated its marriage laws, which formerly allowed children as young as 13 to marry legally. In many cases, this allowed statutory rapists to marry their victims in order to avoid prosecution. Now, the legal age to marry in Virginia is 18, or 16 if the child has been emancipated by the court.
“Child marriage is a human rights abuse,” Reiss said. “There should be no exceptions.”
Atterbeary is proposing to make 18 the legal age for marriage without exceptions. Her bill, HB 799, is scheduled to be heard by a house committee by the end of the month.