All a child needs to get married in Massachusetts is a half-page petition, parental and judicial approval.
Those requirements do not appear to present signifiicant hurdles, as almost 200 children were married in the state between 2010 and 2014, according to the state’s department of public health.
Judges approved the vast majority of those marriages, and 85 per cent of the cases involved girls, who often married men much older than them.
As reported by the Boston Globe, two 17-year-old girls were allowed to marry 39-year-old men.
The information, obtained by Freedom of Information requests, comes shortly after Viriginia raised the minimum age to 18, and similar laws were passed in Maryland.
Almost a third of child marriages occurred in either Springfield or Worcester, cities with large immigrant populations.
A person cannot get married without parental consent under the age of 18, and cannot give consent to sexual intercourse if they are under the age of 16 in Massachusetts. The latter law is bypassed for married couples.
Now a campaign is under way to end the practice, which often involves forced marriage and abuse of minors, led by New-Jersey based Unchained At Last, which works to stop child marriage in the US.
“Unfortunately, it does not shock me,” Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director, told the Boston Globe.
Ms Reiss, who grew up in a Orthodox Jewish family, was forced into marrying an older man at the age of 19 whom she barely knew. She attended college after 12 years and filed for divorce upon graduation.
“Overwhelmingly, these are minor girls marrying adult men, and often there’s a significant difference in their ages. Especially in states where there is no minimum age, we’re seeing shocking instances of children as young as 12 getting married.”
In Virginia, nearly 4,500 children were married between 2004 and 2013, according to the Tahirih Justice Centre, with some girls as young as 13.
Critics argue it is difficult to establish whether the child gets married due to family pressure or of their own accord.
Child brides are less likely to finish high school or complete college and have limited career opportunities. They are also at greater risk of facing violence, rape or health problems.
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