SPRINGFIELD, Mo.–There could soon be a minimum age requirement on how old a person has to be before getting married in Missouri.
The house and senate have passed a bill that would set the legal age to marry at 16. Right now there is no age requirement to get married.
At the Child Advocacy Center in Springfield, reaction to the bill is mixed.
Staff members are excited that the bill could provide more protection to kids, but think more should still be done.
The Missouri legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill, 136 to 4 that would set the age minimum for a marriage license to 16.
Representative Jean Evans says before the bill, kids who weren’t even teens yet were tying the knot.
“We did indeed have 11 and 12-year-olds who could actually get married in Missouri,” says Evans.
The bill will also now mean that 16 and 17-year-olds must still have parental consent before getting married and anyone over the age of 21 is no loner allowed to marry someone under the age of 18.
“What we found statistically is the majority of these marriages between 15 and 16-years-old were not with persons of their own age or even at 21, but the majority of them were with partners who were significantly older than them often in their 30’s or 40’s,” says Evans.
“This bill is certainly a win for children and we are delighted that it has been passed through the house and senate,” says Linda Saturno, Child Advocacy Center director.
While Saturno welcomes the new measures in place to protect children, she says the bill still doesn’t save teens from unhealthy marriages.
“The bill still falls short, however because it does not require that a court look into the matter to ensure that there’s no evidence of abuse or coercion and what that means for instance is that a child under the age of 18 could still be forced to marry their rapist,” says Saturno.
Even though the bill is not entirely what child advocates want, Evans hopes the bill sends a message to those looking to marry minors, that Missouri is no longer the place to do it.
“More than half of these marriages were coming out of state so Missouri will no longer be a destination wedding for people who seek to do children harm you know so older people marrying minors,” says Evans.
The bill also includes removing the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children.
It awaits Governor Greitens’ signature before it becomes law in Missouri.