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Del. bill first to outlaw child marriage in U.S.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Delaware Gov. John Carney signed into law today (May 9) a bill limiting marriage in the state to those 18 or older.

DOVER, Del. (BP) — A bill awaiting Del. Gov. John Carney’s signature is America’s first to outlaw marriage before age 18, the latest measure in a nationwide effort to rein in child marriage.

Delaware’s measure is the strictest to date, surpassing a Florida law passed in March to allow marriage as early as 17 when the partner is no more than two years older. Carney is expected to sign the bill as early as this week, his office has told the media, after conducting a legal review.

Democratic Rep. Kim Williams, the bill’s sponsor, is encouraging other states to follow suit.

“I’m just amazed thinking about the children’s lives that could be changed because of what happened here today,” Williams told the News Journal upon the bill’s passage. “My hope now is that other states will join us and end these loopholes that allow child marriage.”

Marriage laws across the U.S. have typically limited the union to those 18, but loopholes and exceptions have allowed marriages when brides are preteens. Fraidy Reiss, founder of advocacy group Unchained at Last, points to progress in the group’s efforts to outlaw child marriage nationally.

“Our hard work on behalf of girls has paid off,” she said of the Delaware measure her group is “working tirelessly to pass in all 50 states: to end child marriage, without exceptions.”

With the Delaware measure not yet signed into law, the state is among 22 without a minimum marriage age, Reiss said in a May 7 press release.

“Child marriage often is forced marriage, because children face overwhelming legal and practical barriers if they try to leave home, enter a domestic violence shelter, retain an attorney or bring a legal action such as divorce before they turn 18,” Reiss said. “Further, child marriage destroys girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and significantly increases their risk of being beaten by their spouse. In fact, the U.S. State Department has called marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse.”

At least 30 states have introduced legislation to rein in child marriage, but not without challenges, the New Jersey Spotlight reported.

In Kentucky, a new law goes into effect in July limiting marriage to no younger than age 17 and simultaneously granting such newlyweds adult status, the law stipulates. Kentucky repealed a previous law that allowed girls younger than 16 to marry when pregnant, no matter their age.

In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu is expected to sign a bill that raises the marriage age to 16, amending current law that allows girls as young as 13 and boys as young as 14 to wed with a judge’s approval.

A bill limiting marriage to no younger than age 18 is pending before the New Jersey assembly after passing the Senate. A similar bill passed the full legislature under former Gov. Chris Christie’s watch, but he vetoed the bill in March 2017 on what he described as religious grounds.

Virginia led the way in passing a law to limit child marriages in 2016, followed in 2017 by California, New York, Texas and Connecticut, although Connecticut still allows marriage for those as young as 16.

Maryland has tried unsuccessfully for the third consecutive year to prevent marriages among children younger than 17, but sponsors told The Daily Caller they’ll try again next legislative session. Similar measures stalled or died in other states this year, including Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

In 38 states where numbers are available, about 170,000 children under age 18 married between 2000 and 2010, Unchained at Last reported.

According to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau Annual Social and Economic Supplement survey, married people ages 15-17 totaled 132,000 in the U.S. While many states don’t track child marriage statistics, between 2001 and 2010 at least 3,850 children under the age of 18 married in New York, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in 2017. Between 2000 and 2015 in Florida, HRW counted 16,400 children under age 18 who were married there, 80 percent of them girls.

In Delaware, at least 220 minors have married since 2000, and more than 90 percent of them to adults over 18, Reuters reported.