Section 93 of the Mississippi Code 1972 allows girls as young as 15 years old to be married with parental consent, while prohibiting the marriage of boys under the age of 17. A judge may waive the minimum age requirement altogether under certain conditions.
- Country: United States of America (Mississippi)
- Law status: Discriminatory law in force
- Law Type: Child, Early & Forced Marriage
When young girls are forced to marry, they face potentially lifelong harmful consequences. They are essentially subject to state-sanctioned rape and are at risk of increased domestic violence, forced pregnancy and negative health consequences, while being denied education and economic opportunity.
Laws prohibiting marriage under the age of 18 for both girls and boys, without any exceptions, are needed to make explicit the States’, and societies’ understanding that young people need time to understand their independent circumstances before entering into a lifelong contract that will affect many aspects of their lives.
Section 93 of the Mississippi Code 1972 allows girls as young as 15 years old to be married with parental consent, while prohibiting the marriage of boys under the age of 17.
A judge may waive the minimum age requirement altogether under certain conditions.
Section 93-1-5. 1) Every male who is at least seventeen (17) years old and every female who is at least fifteen (15) years old shall be capable in law of contracting marriage. However, males and females under the age of twenty-one (21) years must furnish the circuit clerk satisfactory evidence of consent to the marriage by the parents or guardians of the parties. It shall be unlawful for the circuit court clerk to issue a marriage license until the following conditions precedent have been complied with….
(d) If the male applicant is under seventeen (17) years of age or the female is under fifteen (15) years of age, and satisfactory proof is furnished to the judge of any circuit, chancery or county court that sufficient reasons exist and that the parties desire to be married to each other and that the parents or other person in loco parentis of the person or persons so under age consent to the marriage, then the judge of any such court in the county where either of the parties resides may waive the minimum age requirement and by written instrument authorize the clerk of the court to issue the marriage license to the parties if they are otherwise qualified by law….
Note: The Mississippi Code, 1972 applies only to the State of Mississippi. There is no federal law applicable to the entire country which prescribes the minimum age of marriage for all persons within the United States.
However, under 18 United States Code section 2243, it is a defense to the crime of statutory rape of a minor under the age of 16 years if the persons engaging in the sexual act were married to each other. This provision legitimizes child marriage under federal law. It also provides for different standards of protection to minors from statutory rape based on their marital status and in some cases would legitimize rape of children.
UPDATE: While 18 U.S.C. 2243 was amended by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022 to eliminate this statutory rape defense, a simlar defense still exists in the United States Military Code under 10 U.S.C. Section 920b.
Section 2243: (a) Sexual Abuse Of a Minor.—Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States or in a Federal prison, or in any prison, institution, or facility in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the head of any Federal department or agency, knowingly engages in a sexual act with another person who—
- has attained the age of 12 years but has not attained the age of 16 years; and
- is at least four years younger than the person so engaging;
or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.
(c) Defenses.—(2) In a prosecution under this section, it is a defense, which the defendant must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that the persons engaging in the sexual act were at that time married to each other.
Although Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution theoretically provides every person “equal protection of the laws,” the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which prohibits the denial of equality of rights under the law on account of sex was passed by the United States Congress in 1972 and ratified by the requisite number of states in 2020, but is yet to be incoportated into the Constitution. Learn more about the potential effect of the ERA on child marriage in the United States.