Fundamental right?

California law barring child marriage met with resistance

A young actress plays the role of Giorgia, 10, forced to marry Paolo, 47, during a happening organized by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage, on October 27, 2016 in Rome. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

In a bid to end child marriage in the United States, a California lawmaker proposed a bill that would prohibit marriage before the age of 18. His efforts, however, have been criticized by prominent groups like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, state Senator Jerry Hill, a Democrat from the Bay Area, sought to amend the current law in California, which allows children to marry at any age with the permission of a parent and a judge.

Hill’s proposal barring marriage before the age of 18 was similar to restrictions passed in several other states. New York, for instance, recently banned all marriages involving children under the age of 17.

But in the face of opposition from activist groups, the bill has been amended to remove any age restrictions. As it stands, Bill SB273 “increases family court oversight to ensure that a minor’s marriage isn’t coerced, including a requirement that judges interview individuals privately,” according to the Chronicle.

In a statement opposing Hill’s initial proposal, the National Center for Youth Law said that the bill would infringe upon juveniles’ fundamental right to marry. “Any legislation to eliminate this core right,” the statement read, “must be based on concrete data and information that demonstrates this drastic step is the most effective and appropriate strategy to address the harms being alleged, and that there are not other less extreme options available.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 57,800 minors between the ages 15 to 17 were married as of 2014. But it is not clear how many under-age marriages took place — and continue to take place — in California. Those who support implementing restrictions on the legal age of marriage place the number at about 3,000 annually. Activists on the other side of the fence say that number is greatly inflated, and point to the fact that just 44 petitions for under-age marriage were filed in Los Angeles County of the past five years.

Phyllida Burlingame of the ACLU’s Northern California chapter told the Chronicle that lawmakers should focus on all coercive and abusive relationships, “regardless of marital status.”

Read the full story at The San Francisco Chronicle.


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