The article below contains reference to sexual assault. Please be careful reading.
Child marriage is a real problem in Minnesota and across the country. In Minnesota, the legal marriage age is 18, but the law includes a dangerous loophole: Children age 16 or 17 can marry with parental “consent” and judicial approval.
There are real dangers in law which put children at serious risk. When a child is forced to marry, the perpetrators are typically the parents. Parental “consent” is often parental “coercion.” Furthermore, judges have wide discretion to approve even marriages with a spousal age difference that constitutes statutory rape, or where a child is marrying a registered sex offender. Sex with a child age 16 or 17 could be considered a crime,even if the parties are married. This makes a mockery of statutory rape laws: The marriage is legal, but sex within the marriage is rape. Children are effectively disempowered through the process and are entered into marriages by parents and a judge.
Under current law, children can be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage before they become legal adults at 18. Even at 17, these children face huge barriers if they try to leave home (that makes them a “runaway”), enter a domestic violence shelter (shelters across the U.S. typically turn away unaccompanied minors) or retain an attorney (contracts with children are voidable). It is unclear whether they can even independently file for divorce (children may sue only through guardian ad litem, parent, guardian, friend or relative). Child marriage destroys children’s health, education, and economic opportunities, and increases their risk of experiencing violence. Additionally, those who marry before 18 have a 70-80% chance of divorcing—and teen mothers who marry and then divorce are more likely to suffer economic deprivation and instability than teen mothers who stay single.
To raise awareness, advocates from Minnesota and around the country held a press conference and rally this week to show their support for legislation that protects Minnesota’s children. The legislation keeps the marriage age at 18 but eliminates the dangerous loophole that allows child marriage. It would cost nothing, harm no one, and save girls from a human rights abuse. Delaware, New Jersey, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa recently passed the same legislation, and similar bills are pending in other states. (SF 1393)