Texas passed a law to make marriage under age 18 illegal.
Texas made an important step forward last week when Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill banning child marriage in the state. Texas currently has the second highest rate of underage marriage in the country: nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 got married between the years 2000 and 2014.
Before the passage of the new bill, 16- and 17-year-olds could get married with parental consent and children of any age could marry with judicial approval. Now, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to marry. The only exception is 16- and 17-year-olds who have been legally emancipated from their parents.
“We applaud Texas for closing legal loopholes in its minimum marriage age laws that have put far too many girls at risk, for far too long,” the advocacy group Tahirih Justice Center said in a press release. “Texas had one of the worst child marriage rates in the country, but with this new law, the state is instead at the forefront of the national movement to tackle child marriage in America.”
Although child marriage is relatively rare in America, it’s a bigger issue than many people think and it can have devastating consequences. For example, Lyndsy Duet of Texas was forced by her parents to marry her rapist at the age of 17. He physically abused her for eight years before she escaped the marriage.
Girls who get married underage are more likely to drop out of school and are at a higher risk for domestic violence, according to Unicef. They’re also more likely to develop mental health problems and live in poverty.