Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Should Child Marriage Be Illegal?

An issue that is so obscure that not even I have thought about it recently crossed my mind when I received this newsletter from HRW.
Dear Alexander, 
In one of his first acts as President, Trump signed an executive order that will restrict women’s health and threaten their lives. As Trump continues his attack on our core rights values, we need your help now on another vital women’s rights issue.

Did you know 14-year-olds can legally marry in New York State? And that from 2001 to 2010, nearly 4,000 teenagers younger than 18 married in New York?

In the vast majority of these cases, the girls wed adult men.

True, to marry at 14, girls need permission from their parents and a judge. But that doesn’t change the fact that child marriage is harmful to children; nor does it adequately protect children from being forced into marriage by their parents.

Studies show that girls in the United States who marry before age 19 are 50 percent more likely to drop out of high school than unmarried children, and girls who marry before 16 are roughly 30 percent more likely to live in poverty. Research strongly links child marriage with mental and physical health problems in the United States.

This month, a new bill that would end child marriage was introduced in New York’s state assembly.
I did a little digging and further discovered that 27 states don’t have a minimum age requirement for marriage, including my own (no surprise there), and some of those that do have a minimum age set it in the early teens. Child consent is a slippery issue. Legally we recognize that children cannot give their consent for a number of things such as participating in scientific studies, entering into contracts, and sex with adults. We also recognize a minimum age requirement for driving, drinking, smoking and purchasing a firearm. But what is illegal is not necessarily what should be illegal and vice versa.

Intuitively we understand that children and adolescents have diminished autonomy, a fact corroborated by developmental psychology, due to their greater susceptibility to authority figures.This is even a legal doctrine called undue influence. A free and informed choice about something as monumental as choosing a spouse, which in theory will affect your entire life, cannot really be made by someone who has only recently taken an interest in it. There is a lack of perception of the risks involved and commitment required. It would also be difficult to tell whether a marriage is forced or not due to the aforementioned diminished autonomy; a child or adolescent could simply be going along with their parent’s wishes to stay in their good graces. Perhaps a couple of centuries ago child marriage may have been morally permissible, but in the modern world the gulf between childhood and adulthood has grown wider, and consequently, our laws must reflect this change in norms. Therefore, the minimum age requirement for marriage should be the age of majority or 21 years of age.

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