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Proposal would prohibit marriage in Connecticut for those under age 18

Members of the legislative Judiciary Committee on Monday grappled with a proposal to prohibit marriage for those under the age of 18, while balancing it with the current rights of so-called emancipated teens who have been freed from the supervision of parents or guardians.

Members on both sides of the aisle were warned about the dangers of child abuse, domestic violence, arranged marriages and the high rate of divorce among people who were married at such a young age. But current state law, dating back from 2017, allows teens between 16 and 18 to wed if their plans are approved by a Probate Court judge.

Jonny Dach, Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff who is a former special adviser on women’s issues for the U.S. State Department, read off a litany of first names of Connecticut children including 28 girls and three boys, including nine 16-year-olds from 21 state towns who were involved in child marriage, many of whom were married to men in their twenties.

Stressing that he was testifying for himself and not the governor, Dach said the bill was needed to help show the rest of the country and the world that Connecticut is serious about the issue in a way similar to three states neighboring Connecticut, as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Minnesota that have ended marriage rights for those under 18.

“When we would call on other countries to end child marriage, other countries would routinely say: it’s legal in America,” Dach said. “And we would have nothing to say back. We must end child marriage here not only to protect our own children, but also so our diplomats can better promote the rights and empowerment of girls around the world. America’s ability to stand up for girls everywhere depends on our standing up for girls here at home.”

Dach said that 21 percent of the world’s young women under-18 were married in the last five years, with another 12 million expected to wed this year. In 26 countries, more than a third of girls are married before their 18th birthday, he said.

State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, a top Republican on the committee, asked Dach whether 18 was an arbitrary age, when many experts say children aren’t mentally mature until around 25 years of age. Dach replied that 18 is the international standard for protecting the rights of women.

“I have been around a while,” said Fishbein, a lawyer. “There are some twenty fives that aren’t adults, right? I’m just trying to figure out the real difference between 17 and 18 here and why isn’t it 19? If there is a big difference between 17 and 18, maybe there’s a big difference between 18 and 19. I don’t think anyone is being forced to do anything. Union between two individuals should be a consensual act, but we do have 19-year-old who, it’s alleged, are coerced, into arranged marriages.”

Dach said that access to Probate Court records is difficult to find details on whether court rulings allowing for such marriages were appealed.

“I’m just to figure out why we as government should be changing the law to shame that act without fact,” Fishbein said.

“I don’t think this is about shaming the women who have chosen or been forced to undergo this process,” Dach replied. “It is about articulating national and international policy here in Connecticut. It would appear from public court records that many of these marriages end in divorce a couple of years later.”

Probate Judge Beverly K. Streit-Kefalas of the Milford-Orange District, who is also the statewide Probate Court Administrator, told lawmakers that in the 2017 law that banned marriage for children under 16, unanimously approved in the state House and Senate, there were no requirements for the state Department of Children and Families to investigate petitions requesting a younger teen to marry.

“The over-riding legal standard is whether the marriage would be detrimental,” Streit-Kefalas said.

All 28 pieces of prepared testimony from the public on the issue supported the bill, including state Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour, who cited state Department of Public Health statistics that tallied 1,246 marriages of young teems between 2000 and 2020, including girls as young as 14.

“There is myriad evidence that shows how harmful child marriage is to these children,” said Juan Borrego of New Haven. “It’s been shown that individuals in the U.S. who were married before age 18 report high rates of physical, sexual, financial, and emotional abuse during their marriage. This dismal situation is even further exacerbated for teen mothers. Teen mothers who marry and then divorce have been shown to be more likely to suffer economic deprivation and instability than teen mothers who stay single. Child marriage is extremely harmful and needs to be eradicated.”

“Eliminating the ability for both minors under guardianship and emancipated minors to marry before the age of 18 will protect children by deterring some of the abuse and exploitation, such as forced marriages, that are causes and consequences of marrying young,” said the state Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity & Opportunity.

Others testified that in some other cases transgender children have been forced into heterosexual marriage by religiously inclined parents.

Source : CT Insider