Advocacy is a key tenet of Zonta International’s efforts to empower women.  Zonta International recommends action in accordance with the Objects of Zonta International to improve the status of women and to promote legislative awareness, advocacy and equal rights.  Zonta International works with districts and clubs to assist in these efforts.

View the Zonta Says No Recap of club activities – Zonta Club of Parker County is featured!

Child Marriage in the United States – How young is too young?

Marriage of a minor (less than 18 years of age) not only occurs in faraway countries where poverty and ancient customs are important factors, but it is not uncommon in the United States. Between 2000 and 2015, well over 200,000 children under age 18 were married in the U.S. The majority of them were girls, and the majority married adult men. Currently, most states’ laws set the minimum age of marriage at 18 but allow for exceptions to the rule, such as parental consent or judicial approval, which in practice can lower the marriage age.

The complex legal regimes across and within states can leave many minors confused about what they can and cannot do on their own. This is why setting the minimum age of marriage at 18 is the clearest solution to the problem of child marriage in the United States.

The motives for minors to marry frequently are other than love and being together forever. These include getting around the statutory rape laws, marrying simply due to pregnancy, or being forced into marriage by family or religious customs. Marrying as a minor, however, has substantial legal, social, economic, and health implications:

  •  Minors have limited rights and options.– Before a minor gains the rights of a legal adult, she may be legally unable to take critical steps to protect herself and can leave her trapped in a marriage with an adult. Depending on the state, a girl may not be able to leave home without being taken into custody and returned by police. She may not be able to stay in a domestic violence shelter at all or in a youth shelter for longer than a few days. If friends take her in, they could risk being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor or harboring a runaway. If she tries to get a place of her own, she may find no one willing to rent to her since in many circumstances, minors cannot be held to contracts they enter. Depending on the state, a girl who is being forced into marriage may not be entitled to file on her own for a protective order against her parents or a dating partner. Even after marriage, in some states, she will not be automatically given the rights of an adult through emancipation, meaning that she may be unable to file for her own divorce, and must instead rely on an adult to file on her behalf.
  •  Marriage of minors are not long-lasting.– Between 70% and 80% of marriages involving individuals under age 18 end in divorce. For teen mothers, getting married and later divorcing can more than double their likelihood of poverty.
  •  Education is often interrupted or discontinued.– Opportunities to pursue education is often lost when a minor marries, limiting her ability to become financially independent in the event of domestic violence or divorce. Women who marry before age nineteen are 50% more likely to drop out of high school than are their unmarried counterparts, and four times less likely to complete college.
  •  Risks to physical and mental health.– The unequal power balance of a minor marrying an adult also puts her at risk of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse, which she has little power to escape. Women who married as children experienced significantly higher rates of psychiatric disorders, and they are more likely to experience a range of serious medical problems.
    Above material was provided by Zonta District 7.

Find additional reference material at:

To learn more about child marriage in North America, join the advocacy workshop at the North American Interdistrict Meeting on June 7.  To sign up for NAIDM, go to NAIDM 2019.