On July 28, 2022, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed a bill outlawing child marriage in the state, with no exceptions. This major legislative accomplishment was achieved thanks to the leadership of the Massachusetts Coalition to End Child Marriage and State Representative Kay Khan. UNICEF USA supporters were part of a strong grassroots presence that helped change the conversation and move this important work forward.
Massachusetts joins Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, becoming the seventh U.S. state to end child marriage. There is still work to be done: 43 more states have yet to enact legislation banning anyone under the age of 18 from getting married under any circumstances.
Child marriage is a domestic issue
In many American communities, an illusion persists that child marriage occurs only in developing countries. A 2020 survey found that nearly half of Americans polled believed that child marriage was already illegal in all 50 U.S. states. The remaining respondents believed that the practice was legal in five or fewer states.
Lack of public awareness remains the biggest hurdle to ending child marriage in the United States. UNICEF USA is dedicated to changing the conversation and tackling misconceptions surrounding this issue.
Common myths about child marriage
Myth 1: Child Marriage only occurs in the developing world.
Between 2000 and 2018, almost 300,000 girls and boys in the United States were married before their 18th birthday.
Myth 2: Child marriage in the U.S. only affects children from particular ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Child marriage impacts children of all ethnic, religious, racial and geographical backgrounds.
Myth 3: Child marriage is only legal in certain regions of the United States.
Child marriage remains legal in 43 states, throughout different regions of the United States.
Myth 4: There’s nothing I can do about child marriage.
False! Child marriage policies are determined by individual states. It is up to state representatives, state senators and governors to change the policy. State by state, UNICEF is working to support legislation prohibiting marriage before 18. Children need you to advocate on their behalf.
UNICEF USA advocate Nesha Abiraj was in the front lines in the fight to outlaw child marriage in Massachusetts. She calls on the rest of the country to follow suit. “Child marriage comes at a cost which no child should ever have to bear,” she says. “I ask the state legislatures in the 43 U.S. states where early, forced and child marriages are still permitted to please end this practice now — not for me or you, but for every child who dares to dream.”
America’s children still need your help to outlaw child marriage in the United States. Join UNICEF USA’s advocacy network to urge your state elected officials to pass legislation ending child marriage.
Top photo: Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan, seen here at UNICEF USA’s Annual Summit in 2019, has been a vocal advocate in the fight to end child marriage in her state. © UNICEF USA