Girls as young as 10-years-old have been legally married to much older men due to legal loopholes that still exist in 51 U.S. states, according to a shocking new investigation that reveals court clerks and judges across the country have been quietly approving marriages between pedophiles and children.

The investigation by Frontline reveals that between 2000 and 2015 at least 207,459 minors were legally married in the United States. While a percentage of those cases were 16- and 17-year-olds, an alarming number of states allowed children as young as 10- and 12-years-old to marry much older men. 

Fraidy Reiss, who founded Unchained At Last, an advocacy group that is working to outlaw marriage between pedophiles and children, said she was “literally shaking” when she discovered how many children were marrying adults in the United States.

At first, nobody believed her. “That’s not a problem here,” people would say. But the laws in every state allow minors to get married under certain circumstances—and pedophiles are taking advantage of these legal loopholes to marry children who are many years below the age of consent.

When I got that spreadsheet from the state health department, I was literally shaking,” Fraidy Reiss said.

The spreadsheet showed nearly 3,500 minors married in New Jersey between 1995 and 2012. “That number was so much higher than I had thought it would be,” she said. “Then, the fact that the children were as young as 13 and the fact that it was mostly girls married to adult men.”

Fraidy Reiss then set up Unchained At Last and expanded the investigation to every state across the country. The results are chilling.

The investigation found that the youngest children to marry were three 10-year-old girls in Tennessee in 2001, who were married to men ages 24, 25 and 31.

A 74-year-old man in Alabama holds the dubious record as being one of the oldest to marry a child. His bride was just 14 years old when he legally married her.

The disturbing trend also impacts young boys. The youngest boy to become a child groom was just 11-years-old when he was legally married a 27-year-old woman in Tennessee in 2006. The report also notes:

“Children as young as 12 were granted marriage licenses in Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Thirteen-year-olds were given the green light to marry in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

Most states set the age of sexual consent between 16 and 18. A person can be charged with sexual abuse or statutory rape for having sex with a minor. Yet, we found numerous examples of children who were given marriage licenses before they could legally consent to sex. These marriages were almost always approved by court clerks and judges.”

Human Rights Watch reports that across the world, “15 million girls under 18 marry each year—one every two seconds,” and while there are some countries where pedophiles marrying children is an expected phenomenon, the United States is not one of them, making it shocking that countries such as “Honduras and Malawi have tougher child marriage laws than many US states.”

TFTP reports that Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams, the primary sponsor of the state’s bill to ban child marriage, released a statement saying that she believes the legislation will protect children from “forced marriage and its dangerous consequences.

Children under 18 have no legal standing—they cannot file for divorce, utilize a domestic violence shelter, apply for a loan or open a credit card. They cannot enter any legal contract, but until this bill was signed they could be married as a child without any way of escaping an abusive marriage,” Williams said, adding, “I am so proud that Delaware is leading the way to protect children, and I hope that other states follow suit.

State Sen. Anthony Delcollo said he supports the bill because it falls in line with the way the state treats minors in every other aspect of life and because it eliminates “an exception for circumstances that would otherwise be considered statutory rape,” which he referred to as an “unacceptable exception.”

For every other purpose, we view individuals under the age of 18 as having insufficient legal capacity to make decisions, enter into contracts, hire attorneys, and do all similar acts,” Delcollo said. “It flies in the face of reason to think that the incredibly important decision to marry should be any different.

As Delaware makes the move to ban child marriage, many survivors of forced marriages—who have endured years of abuse at the hands of their older spouses—hope the rest of the country will follow suit.