Young girl waits for her engagement ceremony to begin
Young girl waits for her engagement ceremony to begin Reuters

Pennsylvania is expected to become the third state to ban child marriage entirely, NBC News reported.

The state follows the example set by New Jersey and Delaware, and is part of an overall trend to limit or ban child marriages. Prior to 2016, over half of US states had no minimum age for marriage. Now, most have set the floor at 16 or 17 years of age.

This year, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio and Utah - seven of the twenty states with no minimum age for marriage - have set limits, and both Maine and New Hampshire raised their minimum marriage age to sixteen, with Maine banning all exceptions.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jesse Topper, a Republican, told NBC: "I can think of no positive effect on society for allowing children to marry at any age under what we classify as an adult, and that's where I decided to go with the bill."

"Marriages for child brides — and most of them are young women, but it could be any children — have an 80 percent failure rate. What that tells me is it's not something that is 'Prince Charming, happily ever after.'"

His bill has already passed the state House of Representatives, and it is expected to be approved by the state Senate, News4Tucson reported.

CNA quoted a 2017 PBS "Frontline" report, which noted that at least 207,459 child marriages took place in the US, and the youngest partners were just 12 years old.

A majority of states have minimum marriage ages at 16 or 17, with Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Texas and Virginia's laws including exceptions for court-emancipated minors. Prior to 2016 — when Virginia became the first state to put its marriage age into law — more than half of the states had no minimum marriage age fixed by statute.

Two states require parental consent for adults over eighteen: Nebraska, where both partners must be over 19, and Mississippi, where both must be over 21 in order to wed against their parents' wishes. But in many states, underage minors are allowed to wed with their parents' consent - a loophole which allows most child marriages to take place.

Jeanne Smoot, the senior counsel for public policy and strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that advocates for women and girls, told NBC News: "I think that one of the larger concerns that we have is even as we recognize the overall progress is significant from 2016 to now that the patchwork of state laws continues to put all girls at risk of potential forced marriages or other harm through child marriages, given the ease with which they can be taken out of their home state into another state with lax or no laws."