Just under 60,000 children aged 15 to 17 were married in the U.S. as of 2014, according to Census Bureau data. That amounts to five in every 1,000 in that age group.
Rates of child marriage differ greatly depending on the state. West Virginia has the highest rate nationally, with 7.1 out of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds having tied the knot. Texas followed, with 6.9 in every 1,000. Rates of child marriage were also above the national average in several other states in the South and West, like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada and California.
The practice is legal in nearly every state. Most make marrying under 18 illegal, but have several exceptions to that rule. In 34 states, 16-and 17-year-olds are able to marry with parents’ permission. In 36 states, judicial consent allows minors to marry. Other states allow marriage of children under age 15, but such data was not included in the Census data examined by Pew Research Center. In Massachusetts 12-year-old girls and in New Hampshire 13-year-old girls can marry with parental and judicial permission. Fourteen-year-old boys in both states can do the same.
Those who oppose allowing children under age 18 to marry say the practice can promote forced marriage, human trafficking and rape under the guise of marriage.
The Midwestern and Northeastern parts of the country had lower rates of child marriage, with North Dakota, South Dakota and Maine having low rates. Alaska had the lowest rate nationally, with only 1.8 out of every 1,000 married.
Child marriage is a lot more common in other countries. Data shows that most child marriages are influenced by poverty, gender inequality and traditions. According to Girls Not Brides, a global consortium of civil society organizations started by the Clinton Foundation, one in three girls in the developing world are married.
Indeed, developing countries top both lists of countries with the highest rates of child marriage and countries with the largest absolute number of married minors: Niger (76 percent), Central African Republic (68 percent) and Chad (68 percent) have the world’s highest percentages of married minors. India has the most married children, with 26.6 million.
Child marriage has a particular impact on girls because it can “limit their full potential” and “undermines health, education, economic opportunity and security,” the Clinton Foundation said. Ending child marriage by 2030 is one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.