Written July 13, 2023 by Carina Nixon, Staff Attorney at CHILD USA.
Prior to CHILD USA, Carina worked as an Attorney-Advisor for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance where she aided small business owners in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, she worked as an Attorney-Advisor in the General Counsel’s Office of the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C. As a mother herself, she is passionate about ensuring every child is afforded the legal protections and human rights they deserve.
Connecticut recently became the ninth state in our nation to ban child marriage. Unfortunately, Connecticut’s new law still doesn’t require marriage applicants to provide official proof of their age. This means children can still get married in Connecticut, as long as they look like they’re at least 18 years old.
Connecticut’s law went into effect on July 1, 2023, and now requires marriage applicants to be age 18 or older. Before, children aged sixteen and seventeen could marry if they received court approval and parental consent. This placed sixteen and seventeen-year-old children in danger of falling victim to coercive and abusive underage marriages. Raising the marriage age to 18 is therefore an exciting achievement on behalf of children throughout Connecticut.
While Connecticut’s new law should undoubtedly be celebrated, it also highlights a critical component of child marriage reform that has too often become an afterthought: requiring parties to provide official proof of their age before they can receive a license to marry. As the graph below illustrates, only five out of the nine states to have successfully banned child marriage require applicants to prove their age with official identification. For a more detailed look at each state’s current child marriage laws and how they compare, check out CHILD USA’s 2022 Child Marriage Report.
Laws that don’t require official proof of age are all too easy to get around; marriage applicants simply need to appear to be over age 18 and they can get a marriage license. In fact, marriage license data shows that impermissibly young children have been married in states where applicants are not required to prove their age with official documents. Between 2000 and 2018, almost 300,000 children were married in the United States alone. Of those marriages, an estimated 30,000– 60,000, or 10–20%, occurred “at an age or spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime.” These numbers demand action.
To effectively end the practice of underage marriage and truly protect children, we need to make sure that age 18 requirements are impossible to get around. The best way to do this is to also require that all applicants—regardless of how old they look—provide official identification as proof that they are in fact 18 years old before they can get married. Simply put, if you want to get married, let’s see some I.D.
1 CHILD USA considers “child marriage” to be a form of “forced marriage,” as minors are legally incapable of providing consent. CHILD USA defines “child marriage” as a formal marriage or informal union where one or both parties is under the age of eighteen.
2 For more information on the negative consequences of child marriage, see CHILD USA’s 2022 Report on Child Marriage in the United States: A National Overview of Child Marriage Data and Law,” available at https://childusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/FINAL2022CHMARRIAGEREPORT_output_4749916e5b904c689d30a6f8d80577ea.pdf.
3 These rankings do not reflect the rate of child marriage in each state, but rather the strength of the law in each state or territory to deter child marriage. 4 United States’ Child Marriage Problem, UNCHAINED AT LAST (Apr. 2021), https://www.unchainedatlast.org/united-states-child-marriage-problem-study-findings-april-2021/.