Renewed effort in Legislature to end child marriages in Michigan

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new set of bills to end the legal practice of child marriage is moving through the Michigan Legislature.

Similar bills have been introduced to the Legislature twice since Target 8 first exposed the problem in 2018. The language this time is the same as previous versions but there’s more momentum behind the movement and a new committee hearing the bills, according to Rep. Kara Hope, D-Holt, who helped introduce the package.

“I have to tell you, my mom actually saw your piece, I think in 2018. She lives in your market so she said, ‘You have to do something about this,'” Hope told Target 8.

According to state records, more than 5,000 children, some as young as 14, were married in Michigan between 2000 and 2018. The annual figures have declined each year since 2015.

Target 8 discovered the marriages, most of them between girls and adult men, often leave young brides trapped in the legal contract of marriage without the ability to hire a lawyer to file for divorce. They often drop out of school, become pregnant or end up forever financially dependent on their husbands. The girls may also be abused and for some men, the marriages are a legal loophole to avoid sexual assault charges.

“I was shocked like many other people are,” Hope said. “I was surprised that it was actually legal. It didn’t seem like that could be actually true, but of course it is true.”

Under Michigan law, you need to be 18 to get married without restrictions. At age 16 and 17, you need parental consent. Those younger than 16 need a parents and a judge’s approval. But with a judge’s approval, there is no age limit. 

“It might sound like a small number considering that Michigan is a state of 10 million people, but to those few hundred people, that’s tremendous,” Hope said. “That’s their whole life.”

This package of bills would ban marriage under the age of 18 in our state and currently has bipartisan support.

“Why wouldn’t we want to end this practice in Michigan?” Hope wondered. “We need to make Michigan a safe place for everyone.”

The next step is for the bills is to head to a hearing. If you would like to show support for changing the law, you can contact the head of the committee by phone at 517.373.0837 or email RodneyWakeman@house.mi.gov

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