Child marriage may sounds like a distant problem, but it’s very real and very contemporary. Despite the way much of society may view the practice now, it’s still technically legal in most of the United States. But there’s a sign that the times are finally changing for kids in this country, because now, there’s at least one state where minors can no longer be forced into marriage.
On Wednesday, May 9, Delaware Governor John Carney (D) signed H.B. 337 into law, a bill that made Delaware the first state in the country to ban child marriage. State Representative Kim Williams (D-Newport) introduced the bill, intent to set a firm age limit on marriage in the state at 18 years old.
“Children under 18 have no legal standing — they cannot file for divorce, utilize a domestic violence shelter, apply for a loan or open a credit card,” Representative Williams said in a statement. “They cannot enter any legal contract, but until this bill was signed, they could be married as a child without any way of escaping an abusive marriage. Now that we have closed this loophole in Delaware law, children will be protected from forced marriage and its dangerous consequences. I am so proud that Delaware is leading the way to protect children, and I hope that other states follow suit.”
Williams’s bill received bipartisan support; Senator Anthony Delcollo (R-Elsmere) was a primary sponsor of the bill, which passed through both houses before reaching the governor’s desk. It likely helped that advocates at Unchained at Last, an organization dedicated to ending arranged/forced marriages in the U.S., worked with lawmakers to provide compelling testimony and legal expertise to help them understand the sometimes devastating impact child marriage can have on a minor.
Unchained at Last is currently working on a similar child marriage ban bill in New Jersey, A865. If successful, the bill could help New Jersey become the second state to ban child marriage this year. The organization also partnered with Chelsea Clinton, whose work as an influential advocate and correspondent on the world stage comes at a strategic point in the debate, when states are passing legislation that outright bans child marriage for the first time ever.
When she met with Unchained at Last, Clinton told advocates, “The fact that child marriage is still legal in this country, I think should say to all of us we still have serious work to do here at home.” She also said it “really undermines our credibility as an advocate on the world stage for the rights of girls and women.” As recent studies continue to find evidence that child marriage is a human rights issue, both Democrats and Republicans increasingly grow to agree the current laws need to be changed.