SPRINGFIELD, Mo.–Right now in Missouri, there’s no age limit for how old a person has to be to get married as long as the minor gets a judge to sign off on it or there’s parental consent.
Currently, any child under the age of 15 can get married as long as a judge signs off on it.
After that, a child only needs parental permission, but Missouri Rep. Jean Evans has proposed a bill that would make it illegal for anyone to get married under the age of 15.
Evans bill would also prohibit anyone over 21 from marrying anyone below the age of 18, something that child advocacy groups in Springfield are pushing for.
“Presently in the state of Missouri, a 15-year-old girl can be allowed to marry her 50-year-old rapist because there’s no protection for her whatsoever simply through parental consent, that child can be required to marry that man,” says Linda Saturno, director of the Child Advocacy Center.
Saturno is pushing to see that House Bill 1630 makes it illegal for child predators to take advantage of the current law.
“From our standpoint, if it is illegal for someone over the age of 21 to have sex with someone under the age of 17 then how can it be legal for those two different age groups to marry? That contradicts the statutory rape laws,” says Saturno.
“Most of these underage marriages are not two people who are minors, most of them are one is a minor and one is an adult,” says Rep. Jean Evans.
Even more, Saturno says statistics prove that children getting married can cause a higher divorce rate and educational neglect.
“Children who are married have a much higher likelihood of dropping out of school, those marriages are 70 to 80% likely to end in divorce,” says Saturno.
Even so, 50 Missouri lawmakers voted against passing the bill. Bill sponsor Jean Evans explains one of the reasons why.
“There might be a religious group that wanted to marry before they’re you know 18 so for religious reasons,” says Rep. Evans.
“One of the concerns of people who are opposed to the bill is the concern that it’s important to protect the rights of the parent. The bottom line is we want to protect children from marrying adults because when children marry adults and there is a sexual relationship there, that is abuse,” says Saturno.
The bill has already passed in the house.
It must now pass in the Senate before heading to Gov. Eric Greitens desk to be signed into law.