27 states in the US have no age limit for when children under the age of 18 can get married; Pennsylvania is one of them. Now, a bill is moving through the State House to eliminate child marriage in the state.
Representative Perry Warren says, “When I talk about this issue, invariably somebody says ‘Child marriage, is that a thing?’ Well, it is. And it is, and it is a problem.”
In fact, in 38 states, between 2000 and 2010, there were more than 167,000 children married, most of the girls; some as young as 12 and many to spouses 18 and older.
“How many there are in Pennsylvania? We don’t know, because Pennsylvania doesn’t keep the records.”
Warren says many of those marriages are pressured or coerced, some without even the knowledge of the child getting married. Which is why he and Representative Jesse Topper introduced House Bill 360, a bi-partisan effort to prohibit marriage in Pennsylvania before the age of 18.
Topper tells us, “What I see now, is we have really here, a child protection bill. That’s the way I look at this.”
Kristen Houser, of the PA Coalition Against Rape, says, “Research really demonstrates that, most of the time, these situations end up harming the child; not helping them.”
According to ‘Unchained at Last,’ an organization fighting against child marriage, many parents marry off their children for religious or cultural traditions, money, or immigration reasons.
Houser says, “We are taking action to protect children from exploitation, which is normally what these types of relationships turn into.”
This week, House Bill 360 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously and Representative Warren is confident it can be signed into law.
Warren says, “We need to enact this law, get this law to the finish line and to Governor Wolf’s desk, to protect children from being married off underage.”
And, Delaware and New Jersey passed similar laws last year.