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Lawmakers Protect Pennsylvania Children from Forced Marriage

Amidst the difficulties caused by coronavirus–and the increased risk trafficked and vulnerable individuals face–some good news is coming from Pennsylvania policymakers.

On May 8, Governor Wolf signed Act 18 of 2020, raising the minimum age for marriage to 18 and protecting children from exploitative marriages. As explained in a memo from the bill’s sponsors, Reps. Jesse Topper and Perry Warren:

As marriage before the age of 18 can be coercive or exploitative and is highly likely to result in short- and long-term harm to a child, undermining his or her education, health, and economic opportunities and increasing the risk of experiencing violence, it is time to protect Pennsylvania’s children and update the minimum marriage age.

A form of modern day slavery, an estimated 15 million individuals worldwide are married without consent, forcing them into sexual and domestic servitude. And in Pennsylvania, thousands of children have been married, some as young as 12-years-old.

Finally, Pennsylvania can rank among the states ensuring children below 18 cannot be forced into coercive relationships–with no exceptions.

This victory follows the Buyer Beware Act (Act 1 of 2020), which was signed into law earlier this year and implemented statewide April 6. This important act shifts punishment from victims of trafficking to those who buy and sell sex.

However, room for improvement still exists.

House Bill 2170 (Rep. Joanna McClinton) further amends Pennsylvania’s human trafficking statute. Notably, it addresses the demand for sex trafficking victims by penalizing patrons in line with federal law, and eliminates outdated penalties for those found guilty of repeat prostitution, a provision especially punitive to sex trafficked individuals. (Read Villanova’s Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation summary here.)

As traffickers continue targeting the unprecedented levels of economically vulnerable people, it’s important to continue fighting for the rights of victims across every level of government.

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