5 Horrifying Acts Of Child Abuse That Used To Be Totally Legal

Published February 1, 2015
Updated June 21, 2019

Make Them Child Brides

Child Marriage

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Marrying young seems practical: Young girls are at their peak ability to produce heirs. But marrying a child is also a disgusting violation.

Unfortunately, laws governing the age of consent weren’t exactly focused on the health and safety of children for much of history. Marriage wasn’t about love, it was a social duty that formed political alliances and continued lineages — and they were commonly conducted around the time girls hit puberty, usually between the ages of 10 and 12.

Marie Adelaide Savoy

Marie Adélaïde of Savoy marrying heir apparent of France at the age of 12. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In her book, A Medieval Miscellany, Margaret Larbarge writes that if a girl was wealthy, the marriage age might be even lower: “Heiresses often married between the ages of 5 and 10 and might find themselves widowed while still in their teens.”

Once a girl was married, the law protected her even less. According to Sex and Society, in the early American colonies, “If two people were married and had sex, no matter what their age, no crime was committed because a woman was her husband’s property.”

To make matters worse, in the 1800s, the age of consent in the United States was so low that pedophilia was basically legal. In the words of Maureen Dabbagh, a Virginia Supreme Court Family Mediator, “[In] the nineteenth century, the minimum age of consent for sexual intercourse in most American states was 10 years. In Delaware it was only 7 years.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.