St. Louis television station KMOV ran a story last year on the subject of teenagers being brought to Missouri for child marriages. The investigation by KMOV found that 800 16- and 17-year olds had been married in the state since 2012, and that 100 15-year-olds had been married in the same time frame.
A further study by the Tamirah Justice Center revealed that 860 children under the age of 16 were married in Missouri from 2000 to 2014. The group discovered that in as many as a third of such marriages the groom was
over 21, with some even in their 30's, 40's,
Some interest groups urged the Legislature to make 18-years-old the minimum age at which a teenager could get married without approval by a judge. One such group was Unchained at Last, a nonprofit organization which helps young girls leave or avoid forced marriages.
"The reason it is important to peg marriage at the age of maturity is because a child can easily be forced into a marriage before he or she has the rights of an adult and can leave home and get into a shelter and bring legal action in his or her own name," said Fraidy Reiss
, the founder and executive director of the group. "It is very difficult to escape from a forced marriage before that."
"We know of situations in other states where girls have shown up at the clerk's office openly crying while their parents signed the marriage license application and forced them into marriage, and the clerks did not intervene," Reiss observed. Reiss herself was the victim of an arranged marriage at age 19.
A group called the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence also worked in support of the bill. Jennifer Carter Dochler, the group's public policy director, says the measure will not only help combat sex trafficking, but help keep teenagers from being victims of domestic violence.
"Some children might not have the best home life, and they think they met someone to bring them happiness. Many of these marriages turn into domestic violence situations," Dochler says.
Representative Evans' bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration, with sufficient time to win final passage before the Legislature adjourns on May 12th. You can contact your state senator to let them know your thoughts on this issue by using this link:Missouri Senate
You can read a copy of the bill by clicking this link:House Bill 270
You can learn more about this issue by visiting the website of the group Unchained at Last through this link:Unchained at Last