Cassandra Levesque, an 18-year-old freshman at Southern New Hampshire University who is studying political science, was disturbed when she learned that 13-year-old girls can get married in her home state.
So for over a year now, she’s been fighting to ban child marriage in New Hampshire, dedicating her capstone Girl Scout Gold Award project to the cause. On May 2, her efforts led to a victory: The state Senate unanimously voted to raise the minimum marriage age to 16. Gov. Chris Sununu, who has supported the bill, is expected to sign it.
Her crusade isn’t over, though. “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.”
Unlike in other countries around the world, such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh, child marriage is rare in the U.S. Around 58,000 minors between the ages of 15 and 17, which is about .5% of that population, were married as of 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s on the decline in New Hampshire, too.
But the laws in most states still let teens get married before turning 18, and according to Levesque and many other advocates that’s still too young. There has, however, been some legislative movement recently, including Delaware becoming the nation’s first state to ban marriage for those under 18.
In New Hampshire, until the bill is signed into law, girls can wed at 13 and boys at 14, with permission from a judge and their parents. And although a previous bill Levesque brought to the table failed to make it into law last year, she has learned a lot since.
“Me and my team, we had better comebacks this time to the arguments the legislators made,” she said. “We were more prepared for them.” Some members of the committee argued that teenagers should be able to get married if, for example, the boy goes to join the military and leaves his pregnant girlfriend behind.
Others said that girls would be more likely to have an abortion if they’re pregnant and unable to get married. “I always tell them that abortion has nothing to do with the girl’s future,” Levesque said. “But I try to stay away from the subject. Everyone has different opinions on that.”
Levesque said that until child marriage is a thing of the past, her work is not done. “I’m definitely going to keep fighting and trying to get child marriage banned,” she said.
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