House bill would protect 16-17 year olds from ‘child abuse’ of legal marriage

By Guy Page

Marriage at age 16 or 17 is child abuse, or a similar harmful activity, more than a dozen opponents of under-18 child marriage have testified about H148, raising the legal age to marry to 18.

Sponsored by Representative Carol Ode of Burlington and co-sponsored by Mollie Burke, Tiffany Bluemle, and Sara Coffey, H148 will be under House Judiciary Committee review this afternoon. The bill is likely to be voted on this Friday, a committee member said. 

Rep. Carol Ode

The bill removes the parental consent clause for 16 and 17 year-olds to marry. Instead, it prohibits all marriages under 18. Critics say children must be legally protected from consequences of abuse, economic privation, and divorce. Some critics liken under-age marriage to child sexual assault. 

On February 16, 13 separate written testimonies were entered into the committee record in support of H148, including:

The Justice of the Peace Association: “H148 will protect all children in the state of Vermont from the dangers of child marriage.” The JPUS and other organizations argue that girls, in particular, are more likely to suffer physical and economic harm if they marry under age 18. Child marriage devastates girls’ lives. It destroys their health, education, and economic opportunities, and increases their risk of experiencing violence. In fact, the U.S. State Department has called marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse,’” JPUS said.

Protect Our Defenders, said young soldiers should not be allowed to marry high school sweethearts to make them eligible for survivor benefits: “When it came to our attention that some lawmakers have resisted ending child marriage so that an active duty service member might be able to marry a child for the child to be able to benefit from spousal death benefits, we were left deeply shaken. The military has a crisis on its hands in the form of sexual assault, which has been acknowledged by the Secretary of Defense, military leaders such as General Mark Milley, and the Commander in Chief, President Joe Biden.

Educator/mental health worker Pamela Williams of Chittenden County raised the spectre of child trafficking: “This concerns legal rights; a child cannot retain an attorney, access domestic violence shelters or sign a lease for a rental residence. We do not want Vermont to become the destination for child traffickers to further their control over their victims.”

The Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation says H148 will protect girls from coerced marriages. Under current law, “there is no mechanism to ensure that the parental ‘consent’ required to enter minors into marriage is not, in fact, parental coercion. Children who have not yet reached the age of majority can easily be forced or coerced into marriage or trapped in an abusive marriage.”

Champlain Valley Amnesty International equates under-18 marriage with being forced into adulthood. “Even though this occurrence [forced marriages] might not be of epic proportions in Vermont, there is a concern that these young girls are forced into adulthood before they are physically and mentally ready.”

Marguerite Adelman of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom says girls who marry under 18 are more likely to have five or more children, less likely to finish high school, and more likely to live in poverty. She says the United Nations has declared underage marriage as a human rights violation. 

Less than 300 Vermonters under 18 married last year, the American Atheists noted. But “80%

of those marriages were girls married to adult men. In other words, this loophole has allowed

criminal conduct against children in Vermont, and it must be closed immediately.”

A coalition of U.S. state lawmakers addressed the pregnancy argument. “But what if a girl is pregnant, some will ask you. Let them know we would be harming, not helping, if we married off pregnant girls. Teen mothers in the U.S. who marry are more likely to suffer economic deprivation and instability than teen mothers who stay single.”

These lawmakers also invoked a U.N. initiative: “Under United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5.3, the U.S. joined 192 other countries in promising to end child marriage by year 2030. We have achieved that goal in six states so far, despite initial resistance from our colleagues.”

To date, no-one has testified in opposition to H.148. One House member did refer to the ‘double standard’ of legally preventing youth choices based on perceived harmful behavior. 

House Judiciary members and the committee assistant can be contacted to provide opinions and/or testimony. 

Categories: Legislation

12 replies »

  1. The same people that condemn 16-17 marriage condone child sex change at any age. What has gone wrong with Vermont?

  2. Reproductive autonomy with no age restrictions is now a constitutional right in Vermont. Consider the hyprocracray of pushing for no marriage until 18, but allowing sex and producing children at a younger age.

  3. So it shouldn’t be okay for teenagers under the age of 18 to get married, but it’s okay for them to be neutered ? Huh ?

  4. I watched Steven Spielberg’s Polergeist with my kids last night. The mom in that movie is 32 years old, and her oldest daughter is 16 (I’ll let you do the math).
    Oddly, it’s a movie about a loving family, and not about the mother’s life of torture and sexual abuse.
    Jesus, I miss the past so much.

  5. Bit yet they want them to be able to vote. Makes all the sense in the world, mature enough to vote but not for marriage. 🙃

  6. So, it’s legal for any girl, at any age, in Vermont, to have an abortion – or for any child to have his/her gender changed – but it will now be illegal for anyone under 18 to marry?
    Lord, help us!

  7. Aren’t these the same people that say those same kids 16-17s the ability to vote? This is as backwards as it gets. They can decide for the rest of us our fates and futures but are not mature enough to … lets see, they want them to have NO GUNS and now No Stable Relationships. Last I knew you needed parental permission to get married at that age. I also thought it was illegal for contracts from those same age groups and so many other things, but its now gonna be OK to let them get abortions sans parents but not married. I ask, where is the history of said abuse and based on FACTS not on a lack of transparency or “made up reports or surveys”. I as well as most Vermonters want to know WHO are these people ,lbe it boy or girl getting married and getting abused. (oh lets not forget we do have laws against spousal abuse. ) I have to ask. WHO TOLD YOU TO DO THIS? Which constituents, which donors, I dare anyone of you lying, fascist and demanding “representatives ” not leaders, to give a list of 1000s of incidents over the last say 20 years. And what are the ultimate goals of said legislation, MORE human trafficking’s MORE prostitution in Vermont? A married couple has so many advantages , including 2 parent homes, a God sanctioned union, leading to his blessings maybe even going to church to worship together as many couples do. A united front against the government intrusion into both family and relationships and community. I hope you all see the progressive garbage they are pulling again to demean the law and make Vermont a more Communist Union. So sad how things are going.

  8. I’m all for it. Pick ONE age of majority. Apply it across the board. Voting, registering for the draft (ahem, ladies,) drinking, owning firearms, getting married, tattoos… oh and also sterilization, mutilation & castration.

  9. I would also like to add that by letting young women get married, you are giving them the ability to get divorced, and that is some serious leverage against the husband. She can kick him out of the house, get custody of the kids, and get half his paycheck on the basis of absolutely unproven allegations alone, and that’s before the divorce even really gets started. Talk about empowering young women! 😄

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