The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Time to end child marriage in the United States. No exceptions.

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The Oct. 7 front-page article “ ‘You shouldn’t be doing this.’ She was 16. He was 25.” offered disturbing insights into how child marriage perpetuates intergenerational cycles of abuse and poverty. State laws that permit marriage before age 18 put girls at unconscionable risk.

Most states have “parental consent” exceptions that enable sign-off on a child’s marriage with little more formality than for a field trip. This ignores how vulnerable children are to force and coercion; empowers exploitative or unfit parents with final say-so; and disadvantages minors who, if abused, don’t have the same rights or resources as adults to protect themselves. Minors often face obstacles, for example, getting into shelters, renting an apartment or obtaining a divorce on their own.

“Judicial approval” exceptions can be just as careless. Some rubber-stamp parental consent; others leave judges unfettered discretion. Pregnancy-based exceptions greenlight marriages of rapists to victims. Requirements that judges consider best interests do no good if they’re unaware of relevant research.

It’s time that we end child marriage in the United States, without exception. A growing bipartisan movement is rallying around this common-sense step to give girls a fighting chance at a decent future.

Jeanne L. Smoot, Fairfax

The writer is senior counsel for policy and strategy for the Tahirih Justice Center.