Is Underage Marriage Forced Marriage?

February 18, 2016 Mariah Long Opinion 
Forced Marriage, Sex Trafficking

This year we have added forced marriage as a form of slavery in the world today. A forced marriage can be the means that starts other forms of enslavement such as domestic servitude or sex trafficking.

All around the world people are forced to marry, either by their families or the suitor. The issue of child marriage has made a couple headlines recently, and I wanted to touch on the idea that all underage marriage should be considered forced marriage. 

You see, under the United States' law, anyone under the age of 18 made to participate in a commercial sex act is automatically a victim of trafficking. Yet, minors are able to marry at the age of 16 in most states with parental consent and can marry even if they're under 16 with judicial consent. Notice that this doesn’t have anything to do with the genuine consent of the child. Many of these marriages would typically call for statutory rape charges if not for a marriage license, but under the protection of a marriage license, a 39-year-old man can sleep with his 15-year-old wife.

So, why is it that a 16-year-old involved in commercial sex is considered a victim, yet a 16-year-old being married to and likely having sex with an adult is allowed under the law?


Topics: Forced Marriage, Sex Trafficking

About the Author

Mariah Long

Mariah was previously the Program Manager of End Slavery Now. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati's DAAP program with a degree in Digital Design. 

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