New Law Aims To Restrict Teen Marriages

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Advocates were successful in their efforts to restrict teen marriages in Connecticut. But the work of Unchained At Last—a national organization fighting to end child marriage—isn’t done yet.

The General Assembly approved a bill that prohibits teens 16 and under from getting married. But lawmakers opted to include a provision that permits 17-year-olds with parental consent to marry. The governor signed the bill, which takes effect Oct. 1.

Jodyann Fuller

“We do not feel that the legislation, as approved, will protect all young people from forced marriage,” said Elisheva Davidoff, police and advocacy fellow at Unchanged At Last.

In Connecticut, about 1,140 children under 18 were married between 2000 and 2014, according to Unchained At Last.

The Pew Research Center in 2014 reported that 4.6 percent of teens between the ages of 15 and 17 were married in Connecticut, which was the highest rate in New England, compared with 4 percent in New Hampshire; 3.8 percent in Massachusetts; 3.7 percent in Vermont; 2.2 percent in Maine, and 2 percent in Rhode Island.

Nationally, the Southern states have the highest rates, with Texas at 6.9 percent and Arkansas at 5.6 percent.

In Connecticut, Jurea McIntosh, 16, a student at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, said, “They don’t even know what college they want to go to yet but they can get married?”

Christian Thomas, 17, a student at the University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford, said, “This protection law should be extended beyond 18. Marriage is a huge responsibility for someone who should be instead planning out their future.”

When the legislature was considering the bill, House Speaker Michelle Cook of Torrington, a co-sponsor of the bill, told The Hartford Courant, “I think we were all stunned to learn that Connecticut has no minimum age to marry.

“We like to think that forced child marriage is not something that happens in this country, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” she said. “Girls, in particular, are vulnerable to being coerced into marrying older men. This bill protects our children by putting safeguards in place to ensure no minor is entering a marriage against their will.”

The public hearing on the bill drew no opposition.

JodyAnn Fuller is a student at Achievement First Hartford Academy.