When Cassandra Levesque, a Girl Scout from New Hampshire, found out that her home state allowed child marriage for girls and boys as young as 13, she was appalled. But instead of just balking at the reprehensible law, she got involved in what has become a nationwide fight against child marriage.
Now a freshman political science major at Southern New Hampshire University, Levesque dedicated her Girl Scout Gold Award project to the cause, lobbying the state Senate for over a year to raise the minimum marriage age. On May 2, the New Hampshire State Senate voted unanimously to raise the minimum marrying age from 13 to 16. Levesque was glad to see some change, but is still pushing for more.
"I would have liked to see it changed to 18 because that's when you're considered an adult," Levesque told Refinery29. "But 16 is a middle ground. It's a step further."
Unfortunately, New Hampshire is not the only U.S. state dealing with this issue right now—and 13 is not the lowest minimum marrying age nationwide. In Florida, a pregnant girl of any age can be legally married. This legal loophole makes Florida's child marriage laws more lax than countries like Afghanistan, where a girl has to be at least 15 to marry with parental consent, and 16 to marry without it. In the past three years alone, eight countries (including Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Guatemala) have banned marriage for people under 18. The U.S. has yet to do so.
In case you're wondering how many people under 18 actually get married in the U.S., the numbers are frighteningly high: in Florida, 16,000 children married between 2011 and 2015. In Texas, 35,000 children married between 2000 and 2010. Even one child marrying before 18 is too many—child marriage can derail a person's life, often leading to a young adulthood full of abuse and depression.
As Levesque pointed out this month, echoing the sentiments of other marriage reform advocates, change is good but the true victory will come with a nationwide ban on child marriage.