(OPINION) OK, this one threw for a loop. On the pages of QCostarica there are numerous stories of child marriages, unions between adults and children. Some of the comments and emails received on these stories center on how could this happen? How could Costa Rica, as a civilized society, continue to allow it?

In October 2016, the Costa Rican Legislature adopted a new law which prohibits child marriages, meanwhile, in the U.S. only two states ban marriages under the age of 18.

The majority of the comments were from Americans (citizens of the United States, to be clear) from up north and even some from those living in Pura Vida.

They were right, I had to agree. Although I understand the background, the history, I could not understand how it still applied to today’s society.

According to Girlnotbrides.org, UNICEF 2017 says 21% of girls in Costa Rica are married before the age of 18; even more startling is that 7% were married by the age of 15.

In October 2016, the Costa Rican Legislature (Congress) adopted a new law on “improper relations” (Ley de Relaciones Impropias), which prohibits civil marriages when a person under the age of 18 is involved. Previously, minors could marry with parental permission. The law came into force in January 2017.

On July 16, 2017, I published the report “Time to Get Serious about Child Marriage in Latin America” based on the UNICEF report, which included 11 countries Latin America – Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guyana, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay – where between 20 and 30 percent of girls marry before age 18.

From the Girls Not Brides website, in developing nations, one in seven girls is forced into marriage before her 15th birthday. Some of these child brides are as young as eight years old, marrying men upwards of 20 years their senior. Child marriage is not isolated – it’s in the millions.

Back to the “loop”, it is the story about the State of New Jersey passing a new law Friday (June 22, 2018) to ban marriages under the age of 18.

Uh? There’s more.

In passing the law, it remains striking that among all 50 states in the United States, New Jersey is only the second state to pass such a law. Delaware passed a similar law just last month.

“No child should be forced or coerced into marriage,” Governor Phil Murphy said in a tweet after signing the legislation, pledging that his state “will be a national leader in protecting the welfare of children.”

While all states provide that the age for marriage should be 18 or older, the remaining 48 states offer glaring backdoors that allow children to marry under certain circumstances before entering adulthood.

Iimage from Veobook: Adultos Casándose Con Niñas: La Brutal Realidad Del Matrimonio Infantil En Estados Unidos

Common excuses for child marriages include either parental or judicial consent or in some cases both.

Considering the exceptions, 19 states do not have a minimum age for marriage, seven states allow marriages for children as young as 14 and 15, meaning that a 15-year-old child can be legally wed in over half of the states, earlier than they can bear arms and drive at 16, or consume alcohol at 21.

According to estimations by activist group Unchained at Last which advocates against child marriages, approximately 248,000 children were married in the United States between 2000 and 2010, and more than three-quarters of these unions involved minor girls marrying adult men.

So, the next time I get an email or comment (even a phone call once) on child marriage practices in Costa Rica by American readers, I will tell them to get their act together at home first before condemning Costa Rica who is actually moving forward faster on this global issue than what is happening in their state (unless they are from NJ or DE).

I will refer them to articles such as: Let’s End Child Marriage in the U.S., and The Movement To End Child Marriage in the U.S.,  that explains the laws in (now) 48 U.S. states that allow marriage; the shocking statistics of nearly a quarter-million children wed in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010; and the devastating consequences of child marriage and the catastrophic, lifelong impacts on girls’ lives.

And I would ask, before accepting their comments on Costa Rica’s problem with child marriage, if they are part of the movement to end child marriage in the U.S.?