Harrisburg, PA -- Today, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law legislation modernizing state law to make 18-years-old the minimum age to be married in Pennsylvania in order to eliminate child marriage. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) fully supports this legislation and applauds the bi-partisan support of the General Assembly to adopt it.
Representative Jesse Topper (R-Bedford) and Representative Perry Warren (D-Bucks) showed remarkable leadership in strongly advocating for this legislation and working in a bi-partisan manner to end child marriage in Pennsylvania through House Bill 360. They recognized the harms of child marriage which typically involves the force or coercion of a teenage girl (some as young as 12) into marrying an older man.
For many reasons, child marriage often correlates to high incidents of domestic violence, sexual violence, unplanned pregnancies, incomplete education and a host of other negative impacts for the adolescent involved. Further complicating things is that if the adolescent requests a divorce it will be denied because they are not of legal age to file for divorce nor legally able to retain an attorney.
“We thank Representatives Topper and Warren for leading the nation to protect adolescents from being forced into a child marriage and experiencing any trauma,” PCAR CEO Karen Baker said. “As the adolescents involved are unable to seek any legal relief should they find themselves in an abusive situation, child marriage continues to be a danger for domestic or sexual violence. We are relieved that Pennsylvania has put in place protections to eliminate it from continuing in our communities and hope that other states will quickly follow our model.”
The issue of child marriage has been a national concern as over 250,000 girls under the age of 18 were coerced into marriage between 2000 and 2010. The 2014 U.S. Census found that an estimated 2,323 children in Pennsylvania aged 15 to 17 had already been married. After enactment of HB 360, Pennsylvania now becomes the third state placing restrictions to ban child marriage so that a marriage license is not used as a tool of repression.
Baker added, “We will continue to work alongside our strong network of sexual assault centers and other advocates to support anyone currently experiencing trauma due to a child marriage. Please know that you are not alone and that help is available if you need it.”
We encourage anyone that may need help from experienced and caring professionals in your community for free and confidential help please contact a sexual assault center by calling 1-888-772-7227 or visit www.pcar.org.