New Report Resurfaces Tough Conversation About Child Marriage in the US
According to a new report, the United States approved thousands of immigration requests made by adult men in the US for child brides from abroad, in addition to requests from minors to bring in prospective adult spouses, in the last decade. Though it’s 2019, child marriage is still legal to varying extents in all but two US states: Delaware and New Jersey, and only as of 2018. This puts thousands of girls and families at risk for increased incidents of domestic abuse, pregnancy complications, STIs, and more.
The data comes from a Senate Homeland Security Committee report on immigration and child marriage, published Friday. The DHS report states that between fiscal years 2007 and 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved 5,556 petitions for spousal approval from adults in the US for “minor beneficiaries overseas,” and another 2,926 petitions for “adult beneficiaries overseas” from minors in the US. One of the largest age discrepancies in petitions that were approved was a 61-year-old adult petitioning for a 17-year-old, according to the DHS report.
Of these 8,482 approved petitions, 4,749 (more than half) actually received green cards to live in the US. The vast majority of petitions received for child “beneficiaries” or petitioners came from Mexico, DHS figures reveal, while most of the petitions that were approved came from Jordan.
Though child marriage should be a completely antiquated and unacceptable practice in this era, it is still quite common in the US. What’s more, most child brides in the US are not foreign petitioners.
According to a 2017 PBS Frontline report, more than 200,000 American minors (overwhelmingly girls) were married to adults between 2000 and 2015. While Delaware and New Jersey have since outlawed this practice altogether, 17 states have no minimum age requirements for children to marry. And the US immigration system only evaluates the legality of marriages involving foreign minors based on the laws where the petitioners and “beneficiaries” live.
Ohio lawmakers were recently pressured to alter the state’s law on child marriage after a local newspaper investigation revealed that dozens of underage teens had been married to adults in Ohio between 2000 and 2015. The Dayton Daily News brought light to this issue in 2017, prompting Governor John Kasich to sign a bill on Monday that raises the state’s legal minimum age for girls to 18. (Ohio’s current marital age minimums are 16 for girls and 18 for boys, but those minimums can be waived with parental consent.) The investigation revealed that girls as young as 14 were married off to adults in this timeframe.
Once the new law goes into effect, only 18-year-olds will be able to marry in Ohio, with the exception of couples where the minor is 17 years old, there is no more than a four-year age difference between the minor and the adult, the minor has court permission, and the pair submits to a 14-day waiting period, according to the Springfield News-Sun.
Child marriage, which disproportionately harms young girls who are already vulnerable due to dire circumstances such as poverty, is a practice almost universally rejected by the mainstream. Though underage marriage has been in decline in the US for many years now, there is no reason for this harmful practice to be abetted by the US immigration system.
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