Pennsylvania lawmakers recently took a crucial stand to protect young girls from sexual trafficking.
In early June, House Bill 360, sponsored by Reps. Jesse Topper and Perry Warren, unanimously passed the House and, if also passed by the Senate, will make 18 the minimum marrying age—no exceptions.
Why does this matter?
Pennsylvania currently ranks among 27 states without a minimum age of marriage. This means a child at any age could marry under 2 exceptions—at 16 with parental approval and under 16 with court approval.
Primarily girls are coerced into marriage, with 8 in 10 of these girls marrying adult men.
Young brides are 3 times more likely to be beaten by their spouses.
Unchained at Last estimated over 2,300 Pennsylvania children were married as of 2014, with some reports recording children married as young as 12-years-old.
Underpinning these statistics: abuse. Typically, children are coerced by adults, such as their parents, into marriage as a “legal” form of trafficking. As we have explored, choice doesn’t exist in exploitative situations, and underage marriage proves no exception.
As Unchained at Last writes, consent and coercion, “arranged” and “forced” marriage are frequently indistinguishable:
“they might face intense pressure from their families and society…they might be too young and inexperienced to make such a life-altering decision. They might be rushed to give an answer…They might be bribed or tricked. They might be grappling with implicit and/or explicit threats about the harms that will befall them and their families if they do not agree to a marriage. They might be subjected to actual violence: locked up, beaten or shunned until they say yes.”
These children are less likely to complete high school or college, limiting their work opportunities, and are more likely to earn low wages and live in poverty, all of which harm their health long-term.
Ensuring an age minimum will protect more children from forced marriages. It is important to end this glaring, dangerous loophole in state law, because marriage should be a choice, not the trafficking of a child.
The first step to prevention is education, awareness, and understanding. Greenlight Operation offers age appropriate education and trainings at schools, churches, clubs, events, or other community gatherings. If you would like to schedule a speaking engagement or training event please go to https://www.greenlightoperation.org/schedule-a-training/.
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