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Cassie Levesque’s fight to end Child Marriage in New Hampshire is not over

Cassie Levesque’s fight to end Child Marriage in New Hampshire is not overRepresentative Cassie Levesque of Barrington has worked hard to end child marriage in NH. As a result of her efforts, she has been successful in getting a bill passed in New Hampshire raising the minimum age that children can marry to 16 for both girls and boys (up from 13 years old for girls and 14 years old for boys). But it is not enough, Levesque says. Though the federal government set the marriage age at 18, most states allow children to marry at 16 or 17 and some allow children to marry as young as 12.

“We don’t allow children to do many things such as voting, driving, drinking, smoking because they do not have the legal capacity to understand the ramifications of such undertakings,” Levesque explains. “A 16 or 17-year-old doesn’t fully understand the medical complications of unsafe sex. They do not realize that maternal conditions and HIV/AIDS are some of the highest reasons for teen mortality so what we really need to do is to turn that question around and ask why would we continue to have a law that would allow children to become victims of these things.”

Research into child marriage started as a Girl Scout project for Levesque but soon became a passion. She knew about the devastating consequences of child marriage from her own family history. “My great-grandmother was 16 when she married my great-grandfather who was 49. It was during my research that I found out the effects of child marriage and then realized that my family has been dealing with these effects for at least two generations, if not more. We are talking about almost one hundred years of people affected by one marriage,” Levesque says.

Levesque refers to research by an organization called Unchained at Last, which shows many devastating consequences of child marriage, including serious health complications like HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, poverty, and an early end to their education. This can leave child brides without the skills and resources to support themselves when a marriage ends in divorce, as between 70% and 80% of marriages before the age of 18 do.

A girl in the U.S. who marries young is 31% more likely to live in poverty when she is older, according to statistics gathered by Unchained at Last. The organization estimates that over 248,000 child marriages took place in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. Of these, most were girls married to adult men.

Add to all of this that many girls and some boys are forced or coerced into child marriage by adults as a result of religious or cultural expectations. Often these marriages are to a much older partner who the child does not even know. Often the child is subjected to brutal physical and sexual abuse in the relationship. Though forced marriage is considered a human rights violation in the U.S., Unchained at Last notes that only 10 states have legislation that directly addresses forced marriage.

“Currently, I am working with Unchained At Last to establish a coalition to end child marriage in New Hampshire,” Levesque says. “I would encourage anyone who wants to join in advocating to end child marriage to write to our state officials and encourage them to learn more about child marriage and to vote to end it here in NH.”