United States

‘I was excited more for the future … than I was for the present’

Hoping to prevent her older boyfriend from being jailed for statutory rape, Ashley Duncan, then 15 and pregnant, married him. Now 25, and separated for several years but unable to afford a divorce, she is a stay-at-home mom helping to raise two sons from her estranged marriage and her boyfriend’s two young sons.


My name is Ashley Duncan. I’m 25.

I live in Steele, Missouri. I’m a stay-at-home mom. And I’m a Christian.

I have four boys. I have a 7-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old.

I got married when I was 15.

I just found out I was pregnant not long before I got married. Because I got married in February, and I found out I was pregnant at the late January.

I met Daniel on a school bus.

I was actually 14 when I met him.

He was, like, very quiet and mysterious, and I guess my 15-year-old brain was into quiet and mysterious.

We got together.

We had talked about it — to get married — but we never actually said that it was gonna be something that I did, because I was pregnant, and I was 15. Daniel was 18.

And my family had believed that in the state of Missouri, that if you are over 18 and have intercourse with anybody under 18, that it was statutory rape or something.

So, they had told us that he would go to jail whenever I had my child.

I was pregnant and just going with what they told me to do.

Didn’t find out until last year that that’s not the law here in Missouri.

So, I could have had my child without him going to jail.

So, I was coming home from school.

I’d just found out I was pregnant.

My aunt got on the bus, and she told me to get off the bus, that I was going to go get married that day.

All I can remember is hearing all those kids gasping, was like, ‘She’s too young.’

We went to the courthouse and got our marriage license, and then we went to a preacher’s house here in Steele, and he married us.

I don’t think either one of us realized how big of a commitment we were making then.

I know that day I think I was happy, but I know I was … there was definitely fear and doubt in my mind.

I mean, I was happy that I was about to do what I thought was start a family.

And I was excited more for the future than I think I was for the present.

We fought a lot, and we eventually split up. And I didn’t go back.

You know when you’re young, you tend to believe people when they tell you that they love you, and then you also tend to listen to people, and they tell you to do things.

So, I dropped out of school whenever I found out I was a few months pregnant. I haven’t really had much studying since then.

I had a lot of friends. I had a lot of sleepovers.

I was always talking to my friends, always doing something with them. And whenever I decided to get married, friends didn’t really come around anymore.

A few months after I got married, my cousin got married. She was also 15. She was two months younger than me.

And then my other cousin, he got married at the end of that year, and he was 16.

I wasn’t the first one in Steele to get married. I knew it happens more often than not.

I can name at least four from my school, besides my family.

Now, I feel like I wasted so much of my life, and it didn’t have to happen.

I just wish people would realize what they are doing.

I mean, I don’t regret my kids at all. Just wished I would have done things differently.

Child marriage rates in the United States

The number of children married per 1,000, ages 15-17 years old
2 4 6 8 10

United States

The number of children married per 1,000, ages 15-17 years old

United States

(That's about .6%
of 15- to 17-year-olds .)

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health found that approximately 78,400 children in the United States are or have been married. Their findings appear in the June 2018 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and attempt to highlight the full scale of child marriage in the U.S., and make U.S. estimates more comparable with those from other countries.

Alissa Koski and Jody Heymann used data from 2010 to 2014 collected by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to estimate the average national and state‐level rates of children who had ever been married. The Census Bureau conducts the household survey annually, asking about the marital status of teens ages 15 to 17. The researchers found that an average of 6.8 of every 1,000 girls, and 5.7 of every 1,000 boys had been or were married at the time they were surveyed. Koski, the study’s lead, emphasized: “These estimates are based on survey data and come with some uncertainty.”