Washington, D.C.—Today, American Atheists and Unchained At Last, the only organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States, wrote to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) about the agency’s proposed data collection activity on runaway and homeless youth (RHY).
“Our organizations strongly support efforts to collect more accurate and detailed data pertaining to homeless youth,” said the two organizations. “However, we request that ACF improve the quality and utility of these data standards by integrating child and forced marriage data collection.”
Child marriage remains legal in 46 of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and several territories. Unchained At Last estimates that between 2000 and 2010, 248,000 children as young as 12 were married in the United States – mostly girls married to adult men.
“Unfortunately, not much data is available about the causes or context of child marriage in the U.S. However, we know that child marriage causes devastating, lifelong repercussions for children – especially girls,” noted the groups.
The U.S. State Department has declared that it is a “human rights abuse” that contributes to economic hardship and leads to under-investment in girls’ educational and health care needs. The National Coalition for the Homeless has identified three categories for the causes of youth homelessness, two of which could be significantly related to child marriage: family problems and economic problems. Based on the organization’s work with survivors of child marriage, Unchained At Last is familiar with how child marriage affects youth homelessness for each of these categories.
“Given the overall lack of data pertaining to this vulnerable population, it is imperative that we learn as much as possible to better meet the needs of these youth,” wrote the organizations. “With this data, young people facing homelessness as a result of child or forced marriage can be properly assessed and provided with appropriate resources. Moreover, organizations that work to address this issue systemically will have access to data showing how youth homelessness and child and forced marriage overlap and intersect.”
For these reasons, American Atheists and Unchained At Last strongly recommend to ACF that child and forced marriage data elements be added to the data collection standards.