HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) – Twenty-seven states in the United States have no age limit for when children under the age of 18 can get married, one of which is Pennsylvania. Now, a bill is moving through the Statehouse to eliminate child marriage.
“When I talk about this issue, invariably somebody says, ‘Child marriage, is that a thing?’ Well, it is and it is a problem,” said Rep. Perry Warren.
In fact, in 38 states between 2000 and 2010, there were more than 167,000 children married — most of them 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 said.
Warren says many of those marriages are pressured or coerced, some without even the knowledge of the child getting married.
So, Warren and Rep. Jesse Topper introduced House Bill 360, a bi-partisan effort to prohibit marriage in Pennsylvania before the age of 18.
“What I see now is we have really here, a child protection bill. That’s the way I look at this,” Topper said.
“Research really demonstrates that, most of the time, these situations end up harming the child, not helping them,” said Kristen Houser, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
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.
“We are taking action to protect children from exploitation, which is normally what these types of relationships turn into,” Houser said.
This week, House Bill 360 passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, and Warren is confident it can be signed into law.
“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,” Warren said.
Delaware and New Jersey passed similar laws last year.