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Atheists Tell New Hampshire to End Child Marriage

Concord, New Hampshire—Today, American Atheists, on behalf of its New Hampshire constituents, submitted testimony for HB 378. This bill would end child marriage in the state.

HB 378 would protect young people in NH from being coerced into marriage against their will. Unfortunately, this harmful and archaic practice happens all-too-frequently across our nation.

The harm caused by child marriage is daunting. It destroys the child brides’ health, education, and economic opportunities. It also increases their risk of experiencing violence. Those who marry before 18 have a 70 to 80% chance of getting divorced. Teen mothers who marry and then divorce are much more likely to end up in poverty than teen mothers who stay single.

The marriage age in New Hampshire is 18, but the current law allows a dangerous exception. Children can marry if a parent or guardian petitions the court, and a judge approves. However, the requirement of parental “consent” does not remove the danger of forced child marriage. When a child is forced to marry, the perpetrators are almost always the parents.

Therefore, New Hampshire’s law currently contains no effective procedural safeguard against the danger of forced child marriage.

By adopting HB 378, New Hampshire would effectively eliminate this loophole and join states like NJ and Delaware that have already ended child marriage.