Fact or Fiction: 12-Year Olds Can Get Married in the U.S.

This is a fact!

While 18 is the minimum marriage age in most states, there are exceptions in every state that allow children younger than 18 to marry, typically with parental consent or judicial approval. Nine states still allow pregnancy exceptions to the marriage age. In fact, 27 states do not specify an age below which a child cannot marry, including California!

Where Is Child Marriage Most Common in the U.S.?

It is most common in West Virginia and Texas, where about seven of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds were married in 2014, compared to five of every 1,000 nationwide. Several other states in the South and the West, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Nevada and California, also have above-average rates of child marriage.

Image Source: pewresearch.org

Image Source: pewresearch.org

A nonprofit called Unchained at Last compiled statistics for marriages from 2000 to 2012. They discovered that in 38 states, more than 167,000 children — almost all of them girls, some as young as 12 — were married during that period, mostly to men 18 or older. It is estimated that the total number of children wed in America between 2000 and 2010 was nearly 248,000. At least 31 percent were married to a spouse age 21 or older, although the actual number is probably higher, as some states did not provide spousal ages. These marriages occurred even in states that have statutory rape laws.

Many of the states that provided data included categories such as “14 and younger,” without specifying exactly how much younger some brides and grooms were. So while 12-year-old married children were found in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina’s, there may have been children younger than 12 wed in America between 2000 and 2010.

The data collected by Unchained at Last did not account for children wed in religious-only ceremonies or taken overseas to be married. For example, some children are wed in Islamic weddings before the age of 18, then wed again in civil ceremonies once they reach age 18. According to a survey by the Tahirih Justice Center, there appears to be an increasing number of forced child marriages among immigrant communities from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico, the Philippines, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia.

Image Source: npr.org

Image Source: npr.org

One of the most notorious scandals involving child marriage is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which is North America’s largest polygamist sect. The sect was run by Warren Jeffs, who wed several wives when they were 12 years old. Jeffs is now in prison for child sexual assault.

Warren Jeffs Image Source: salon.com

Warren Jeffs
Image Source: salon.com


Why is Child Marriage Harmful?

  • Women who marry at 18 or younger face a 23 percent higher risk of heart attack, diabetes, cancer and stroke than do women who marry between ages 19 and 25, due in part to added stress and forfeited education;
  • Women who wed before 18 have increased risk of developing various psychiatric disorders, even when controlling for socio-demographic factors;
  • American girls 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;
  • A girl who marries young is 31 percent more likely to live in poverty when she is older;
  • Women who marry before 18 are three times more likely to be beaten by their spouses than women who wed at 21 or older.


Efforts to Ban Child Marriage 

There’s been a push for laws banning child marriage in states like New York and Virginia. No such law has been passed in California yet.

In 2016 Virginia passed a law banning most marriages of persons younger than 18, and removed the pregnancy exception. Under the new Virginia law, 16- and 17-year-olds must apply to become emancipated before they can marry. A judge evaluates whether a minor is being coerced to marry and may consider the age difference between a couple and a person’s criminal history in considering an application.

Some state lawmakers still resist passing legislation to end child marriage, fearing that such measures might unlawfully stifle religious freedom or because they believe marriage is the best solution for a teen pregnancy.

What do you think? Should marriage for anyone under the age of 18 be banned or should the exceptions for parental consent, pregnancy, or judicial approval remain in place?

22 comments on “Fact or Fiction: 12-Year Olds Can Get Married in the U.S.

  1. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
      Teress on

      For NO REASON should a 12 year old child be able to marry. No REASON. That’s just plain Child ABUSE! And a sick ADULT. WE ARE LIVING IN ADIFFERENT TIME. PEOPLE LIVE LONGER. NO only sick Demented MEN DO THAT. YOUR ROBBING THEM OF A Childhood. Disgusting. This is 2023 NOT THE 1800S.

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
      Teresa on

      For NO REASON should a 12 year old child be able to marry. No REASON. That’s just plain Child ABUSE! And a sick ADULT. WE ARE LIVING IN ADIFFERENT TIME. PEOPLE LIVE LONGER. NO only sick Demented MEN DO THAT. YOUR ROBBING THEM OF A Childhood. Disgusting. This is 2023 NOT THE 1800S.

  2. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    ozy on

    also DON`T throw unrealistic claim
    Islam prohibited the forced marriage

    girl MUST like the boy and marry the one she like.

    people acts belong to people not to the religion

    therfore Don’t say (Islamic marriage)

    any forced marriage is fails and the contract is illegal
    please go back to read Sahih Muslim book and you can see the religion guide regard this matter

    again, you have no problem seeing your little daughter having sex in the street with stranger and come back to you crying with baby in hand

    but you have problem to protect her and and search for that partner and sign legal marriage contract to protect your daughter and her baby!

    what human you are?

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
      Kara M Moore on


      The Islamic Republic of Iran has stated in its published civil codes that 9 years-old is the age of majority for girls.

      Reliance of the Traveler, Compendium of Sharia Law
      Chapter M
      Section 3

      Girls who may be married against their will

      A guardian who finds benefit of marrying a girl against her will is permissible whether she be prepubescent or not and whether she be a virgin or not.

      Section 4
      If a guardian finds benefit of marrying a boy to someone may do so, as long as the person has no physical defect.

      Hmm, you seem to not know your own religion. Or you are a liar. Which is it?

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
      Pedos don’t deserve oxygen on

      Tell us that your religion is repugnant and you’re pedophile without telling us.

      You’re disgusting. A 12 year old girl doesn’t have the emotional OR PHYSICAL maturity to marry anyone. Where the fuck is Chris Hansen when we need him?

      Stick to goats

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
      Angel on

      This isn’t fact. I worked for a woman who was on a forced marriage. She was a Muslim. The husband was chosen by the family. The husband paid for her. The girl was 12.

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
  3. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Anita Vd Meer on

    never let a child get married no matter what the circumstances are.
    Because children can’t make those life chancing decisions.
    And parents are not always making decisions in best interest of there child.
    We can’t rely on that!
    and come on really!! a child with a spous older than 18 or 21 letting them get married. Is making it legal to have sex with a child (pedofile)
    If a child gets pregnant with an older man, the child needs to be in a safe environment and needs to get professional help to see if its a healthy relationship and if al that is good.
    Than they later can decide to get married at a legal age.
    I think its beter for the child and for the born child that they know that there parents where with each other by choice and love not by law or grandparents who dicided that that was for the best.

  4. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Curtis Kendrick on

    History is a joke one man decided what we should do. Not saying I agree nevertheless we lock up people today for things that was once legal. Watch Beverly Hillbillies. At one time if you where not married by 13 you were considered over the hill. Just saying

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
      Kelsey Anderson on

      A television show is not a place for accurate information. You can do minimal research and learn that by the 17th century the average age for marriage had climbed to 17-25 years old. By the 18th century the average age for marriage was 26. Prior to that in the 16th century the age for marriage was 12-14 years old, the life expectancy then was significantly lower. So yeah back in ye good old days that made sense. Basically that means the common age for marriage being lower than 17 years old hasn’t been a thing for 421 years. It’s not even comparable to our modern sensibilities. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, movies and tv shows do not portray facts. Ever.

    • Avatar for Derek Pakiz
  5. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Adolf hitler supers5ar on

    I Bee amarry 8n girl, if not be another. Sorry. Fuc… Kgb And Fsb Want be me 8 the pedofile, but i 35y not capitulated it. Now mb marry – 18yo,if impossible (to me Hard controlled. Defence me. rafael-04@inbox.lv. More pedofile And fliers not guild. I Know it, i private detective. sorry. What another? Gods before born vote consil, what And How me sex potencial. (Michael newton voyage a spirit etc. 1994,2001book

  6. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Pinochet on

    What it the idiots translate China comp meda pud? I not pedofile. I Want yours support And defence me. Kida marryd? 8f not another

  7. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Dawn on

    What the f***! There should be no one under the age of 18 getting married to a man over 18. Men that would do that and parents that would let it happen are pigs. The parents probably do it just to get the kid out of their hair and the guy does it because he’s a molester.

  8. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
  9. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
  10. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Animegod on

    The movement against so called Child Marriage is actually recent. The movement was done by the Feminist Movement that began in the 1920s. The issue at that time that sparked outrage never actually changed and still occurs today. It was in West Virginia among the American Gypsies that range from West Virginia, Virginia down into the Carolinians. Kids as young as 8 are married in this sect even to this day! As for Islamic Marriages, there is both forced and implied. Meaning some are forced and others do not know that they have a choice because of tradition requires them to accept what the head of house says.

    The average again in 1940 in the USA for marriage was 15. If you look at say 1300CE the average age was 12. Why 12? Has to do with most of the religions in the world earmarked that age as acceptable. Judaism, and by extension Christianity as well as Islam which borrowed this from Judaism to the Pagan Indus valley religions all have 12 years of age. If anyone has read the bible, this issue was brought up no just in the old testament but the new. The age of adult to know right and wrong is 12 years of age in Judaism. Both boys and girls must pass the Bar mitzvah generally before the 13th birthday or by the 13th birthday. It has been more lax in that regulation in the last 30 years. However before this it was standard. Go to any Museum in Europe and you will see Marriage portraits of kids being married at ages between 8 to 12. Before the 1920, a girl was good to marry if she began to menstruate and was 12 years of age for the most part. The further back in history the question of age become ambiguous at best.
    The vast majority of child marriages in the USA are result of pregnancy, It was what 15 years ago of the girls who turned 14 had viral pack to get pregnant and have a kid. This was a rash across the USA. Girls in many schools deliberate got pregnant to have a kid. Many of these girls married the boy that got them pregnant. The ages of the boys was 13 to 38.
    The 18 age doctrine is wrong in my book. From a religious perspective, God made Mary pregnant when she was 14- 15 years of age. The Christian church changed it to 16 during the feminist movement. So, I will take the position that older than 13 is acceptable as God Almighty is the example and pattern. Getting married in the 20s has just as many health risks as being too young. The biggest is women find themselves having trouble to become pregnant because they may have run out of viable eggs in their 20s to early 30s. It is a serious issue. There is arguments for both sides here.

  11. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
    Jac Chester on

    American politicians and their so called lackey police secretly support pedophilia in the guise of religious freedom.
    The very same pieces of sh#t are critical of Africans and Muslims.

  12. Avatar for Derek Pakiz
  13. Avatar for Derek Pakiz

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