A new report released by a U.S. Senate committee reveals that the United States government has approved thousands of applications to bring child brides into the U.S. over the past decade.
Here's what we know
According to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, between fiscal years 2007 and 2017, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services "approved 3,595,447 petitions for spousal or fiancé entry into the United States. Of those, 8,686 involved a minor." Only 1,575 petitions for spousal or fiancé entry that involved a minor during that time period were not approved.
The report continues: "Two minors whose petitions were approved were 13 years old; 38 were 14 years old; 269 were 15 years old; 1,768 were 16 years old; and the remaining 6,609 were 17 years old. Girls were the younger party in 95 percent of the petitions approved by USCIS."
The committee could not tell how many of these petitions were then approved for a visa by the State Department.
Many of these child brides had a significant age difference from their "spouses." According to the report:
The Committee found that USCIS awarded some petitions to people with significant age differences. For example, in 2013, USCIS approved a 71-year-old U.S. citizen's petition for a 17-year-old spouse in Guatemala; in 2011, USCIS approved a 14-year-old U.S. citizen's petition for a 48-year-old spouse in Jamaica; and USCIS approved 149 petitions involving a minor with an adult spouse or fiancé who was more than 40 years old.
The Associated Press reported the case of a woman who was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan. She said she was betrothed to her first cousin when she was 8 and he was 21, and forced into a marriage with him five years later. At 13, she was petitioning the U.S. to allow her adult husband to enter the country. She ended up running away and spending time in foster care.
"I was a child. I want to know: Why weren't any red flags raised? Whoever was processing this application, they don't look at it? They don't think?" she asked.
When approving applications for spouses to enter the United States, the government looks at a few factors, including whether the marriage is legal in the country of origin and if it would be legal in the part of the United States where the American spouse is living.
However, according to the AP, every U.S. state allows exceptions where a person can be married under the age of 18, and some, like New York and Maryland, even allow marriage under the age of 16 with approval by a court.