Senator Jerry Hill to Introduce Legislation Banning Child Marriage

March 16, 2017

Initially released 2 p.m. March, 16, 2017. Updated on March 17, 2017, to include comments from more advocates, confirm legislation has been introduced and add bill number. 

UPDATE for Immediate Release – Office of State Senator Jerry Hill – March 17, 2017
Media Contact: Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404 cell, leslie.guevarra@sen.ca.gov

Senator Jerry Hill Introduces Legislation Banning Child Marriages,
Bill Closes Loophole in Law Brought to Light by Peninsula Teen

SACRAMENTO – State Senator Jerry Hill introduced legislation today to close a loophole in state law that allows even young children to wed because there is no minimum age requirement for marriage.

“While we respect all cultures and faiths, we cannot support practices that rob youth of their childhood,” said Senator Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

Senator Hill’s legislation, Senate Bill 273*, would prohibit individuals younger than 18 from marrying.

Current California law allows minors younger than 18 to marry with the signed permission of at least one parent, or that of a legal guardian, and a court order. While pre-marital counseling or a court hearing may be ordered by a judge before such a request is granted, neither is required.

In proposing his legislation, Senator Hill noted that 18 is the age of legal consent in California. This, among other things, allows an 18-year-old to be eligible for military service without parental permission and to consent to sex if unmarried.

The rate of underage marriages in the United States averages 4.6 of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. In California, the underage marriage rate is higher and averages 5.5 of every 1,000 15- to 17-year-olds, according to the study.

The loophole in California’s law was called to Senator Hill’s attention by Aliesa Bahri, a Peninsula teenager who has been an outspoken advocate of girls’ rights, female empowerment and social justice.

“After hearing about a situation involving forced early child marriage, I was compelled to take immediate action,” Aliesa said. “I contacted Senator Hill, who couldn’t have been more responsive. Although we tend to view forced childhood marriages as an archaic practice that only occurs in developing countries, this experience has made me realize that we have a lot of work to do right here in California. Multiple studies have shown that girls who marry early are more likely to stop their education, suffer economically, and become victims of domestic violence. We have a responsibility here and now to end early childhood marriage given that we know how detrimental it is for our children and for our communities.”

“I am very grateful to Aliesa for speaking out on this important issue,” Senator Hill said.

Fraidy Reiss, the founder and executive director of the New Jersey-based nonprofit Unchained at Last, which helps girls and women who are trying to leave or avoid arranged or forced marriages, expressed support for Senator Hill’s legislation. “The current law in California is seriously endangering children, who can too easily be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage before they reach the age of majority,” said Ms. Reiss. “This bill would finally end child marriage, a human-rights abuse that has devastating, lifelong impacts on girls’ lives.”

“This legislation has strong support from the Tahirih Justice Center ,” said Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for policy and strategy at the center, a national nonprofit legal services and advocacy organization that is working to end forced and child marriage. “By taking just one simple step – setting the minimum legal marriage age at 18 – this bill will offer powerful protection to vulnerable children. In the Tahirih Justice Center’s experience, before individuals turn 18 and have the full legal rights of an adult, they can be easily forced or coerced to marry, or find themselves trapped in an abusive or exploitative marriage.”

The Tahirih Justice Center worked with Virginia lawmakers on legislation that set the minimum age for marriage at 18, with an exemption for minors who have been emancipated by court order. Virginia’s law took effect in 2016.

In a report released last year, the U.S. State Department cited reducing childhood, early or forced marriages as a goal of the country’s participation in a global effort to empower adolescent girls. “The goal of U.S. government efforts under this strategy is to ensure adolescent girls are educated, healthy, economically and socially empowered, and free from violence and discrimination, thereby promoting global development, security, and prosperity,” said the report entitled United States Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls. “Our efforts aim to enhance their access to quality education; to reduce their risks of child, early, and forced marriage; to reduce their vulnerability to gender-based violence…”

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*Until today, SB 273 was an unrelated bill that was rewritten to accommodate the legislation prohibiting child marriages. The earlier provisions of SB 273 are expected to be amended into other Hill legislation this spring. The amended version of SB 273 will be available at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/ on Monday.