DUBAI: Shocking new figures have revealed that more than 200,000 children have been married in the US over the last 15 years.
Some of the children, who were as young as 10-years-old, wed adults that were decades older than them.
The minimum legal age for marriage in the US is 18, but there are legal loopholes that allow children to wed in certain circumstances, these include parental consent and pregnancy.
The official statistics suggest that at least 207,468 children were married between 2000 and 2015 in the US.
But the actual figure is likely to be far higher as 10 states provided either no information or incomplete statistics, according to information compiled by Unchained At Last, a group campaigning to abolish child marriage, and the investigative television documentary series Frontline.
There have been efforts to abolish child marriages altogether, but it has been met in some cases with opposition.
New Jersey’s Republican governor refused to sign a law that would made the state the first to have an outright ban on child marriage, without exception claiming it would conflict with religious customs.
Founder of Unchained at Last, Fraidy Reiss, said she was “literally shaking” when saw the data for New Jersey that revealed nearly 3,500 children had been married between 1995 and 2012.
She explained: “That number was so much higher than I had thought it would be… Then, the fact that the children were as young as 13 and the fact that it was mostly girls married to adult men.”
In June New York banned children under 17 from marrying; the age had previously been 14, with parental and court permission.
The figures have shown that it is mostly girls married across the country between 2000 and 2015, with most aged 16 or 17.
But the youngest to marry were three 10-year-old girls in Tennessee in 2001, who married men, aged 24, 25 and 31.
The youngest boy to marry was 11. He married a 27-year-old woman in the same state in 2006.
There were more than 1,000 children, 14-years-old or younger, who were granted marriage licenses. The breakdown in stats showed that 12-year-olds were granted marriage licenses in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina.
A further 11 states granted licenses to 13-year-olds.
The majority of the children were married to partners aged 18 to 29, with 60 percent aged 18 or 20.
But there were some instances where children were married to people decades older than them – that included a 14-year-old girl who wed a 74-year-old man in Alabama.
Lawyer Jeanne Smoot, of the Tahirih Justice Center, that provides legal support to women fleeing violence, and has called for an end to child marriages said most of the children were from poor backgrounds in rural areas.
“Almost all the evidence indicates that girls in cities don’t get married young, that girls from middle class or wealthy families, don’t get married young. This is a rural phenomenon and it is a phenomenon of poverty.”