Fighting to End Child Marriage

Child marriage is still legal in 48 states. The ongoing fight to change this for good is personal for the founder of Unchained At Last.

Child Brides in the U.S.

Child marriage is legal in most of the U.S. 48 states allow marriage before the age of 18. Fraidy Reiss is working to change that through her nonprofit Unchained At Last — which she started after leaving and abusive marriage. She found out that 248,000 children as young as 12 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. In state after state, children can be entered into marriages without any say from them — completely disempowered throughout that process. And then because children do not have the right to bring legal action in their own name in most states, that typically means they're not even allowed to file for divorce once they've been entered into these marriages.

“My family arranged my marriage at 19 to a stranger who turned out to be violent. And I was trapped in that marriage for 15 years when I finally managed to escape with my two daughters. My family shunned me. They still consider me dead more than a decade later. Setting a marriage age at 16 or 17 does not help — almost all the children who marry in the United States are 16 or 17. Forced marriage and child marriage are happening everywhere. There is no one community or one culture or one ethnicity that we can point to and say, "That's where the problem is. They need to fix that." No, we all need to fix this.

In May 2018, she helped pass a bill banning marriage before 18 in Delaware — And then in New Jersey a month later. Since 2011, Unchained has helped over 500 women and girls leave forced marriages. Reiss says that oftentimes, It’s the parents who force the marriage and the consequences can be devastating. After the success in Delaware and New Jersey, Reiss is working to pass legislation in more states to end marriage before 18.