SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Senator Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) and Rep. Kaohly Her (DLF-St. Paul), joined by a large constituency of advocates, unveiled the End Child Marriage Bill (SF 1393). The legislation eliminates provisions allowing marriages by minors in Minnesota. Marriage before 18 remains legal in 48 U.S. states, and it is estimated that nearly a quarter-million children, some as young as 12, were married in the between 2000 and 2010.
“Allowing children to marry before they turn 18 is completely misguided and unjust,” said Senator Pappas. “The loophole allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to marry is nothing more than a cover for coercion, a deprivation of the rights of these kids, and a recipe for abuse. We must end it in Minnesota.” Sen. Limmer has indicated to Sen. Pappas that he is willing to give the bill a hearing this year.
While the age of consent to marry in Minnesota is currently 18, a loophole exists allowing minors aged 16 and 17 to be married with parental consent and judicial approval. When a child is forced to marry, the perpetrators are typically the parents. Parental “consent” is often parental “coercion.” Additionally, judges have wide discretion to approve marriages with a spousal age difference that constitutes statutory rape or where a child is marrying a registered sex offender.
“We cannot allow the exploitation of our most vulnerable Minnesotans to continue,” said Rep. Her, author of the House bill which passed unanimously in the House in 2019. “Not only does child marriage cut childhoods short, it puts minors at higher risk of abuse, poverty and life-long physical and mental health challenges.”
Children can easily be forced into marriage or to remain in a marriage before they become legal adults at 18. As children, these victims face huge barriers if they try to leave home, enter a domestic violence shelter, or retain an attorney. It is unclear whether they can independently file for divorce (children may sue only through guardian ad litem, parent, guardian, friend or relative).
“Child marriage is a human rights abuse that destroys girls’ lives,” said Fraidy Reiss, a forced marriage survivor and the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last—the only nonprofit dedicated to fighting forced and child marriage in the U.S. “SF1393 is simple, commonsense legislation that harms no one, costs nothing and saves girls from this human rights abuse.”
Those who marry before 18 have a 70-80 percent chance of divorcing. Teen mothers who marry and then divorce are more likely to suffer economic deprivation and instability than teen mothers who stay single. U.S. Census data show that, as of 2014, an estimated 1,142 children age 15 to 17 living in Minnesota had already been married. Across the U.S., an estimated 248,000 children as young as 12 were married between 2000 and 2010. Nearly all of these children were girls wed to adult men.
“Child marriage threatens girls’ lives. Girls pressed into child marriage often become pregnant while still children themselves,” said Rose Roach, Executive Director of the Minnesota Nurses Association. “This increases the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and these complications are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls.”
Several survivors also attended the press conference to tell their personal stories.
“The first two things a child loses upon child marriage is the right to consent and access to education” said Dawn Tyree. “These children are too often coerced into an abusive relationship by their parents and abusers just as I was at age 13. Teen pregnancy is not a legitimate reason to allow children to marry at such a young age and perpetuates the archaic and sexist lawmaking of our past. It is time to support and protect our children, and SF1393 does exactly that.”