A 17-year-old in Connecticut is not allowed to be at the Connecticut Post Mall on Saturday evenings without the accompaniment of someone 21 years or older. Yet, under Connecticut’s current state law, they can get married.
In fact, there have been 1,246 minors wed in Connecticut since the year 2000. In 2017, state legislators banned marriage for those who are 15 or younger, but still failed to protect children who are 16 and 17.
A new bill in the Connecticut General Assembly, H.B. 6569: An Act Concerning The Minimum Age To Be Eligible To Marry, will properly protect all the children of Connecticut by setting the minimum age for marriage to 18 and eliminating all exceptions.
I have seen the effects of child marriage firsthand. Before my grandma passed away in November, I’d lived with my grandparents my entire life. When they got married in the early 70’s, my grandma was 16 and grandpa was almost 19. She always used to say that it was the biggest mistake of her life. She urged me to be cautious. At 16, she hadn’t even had her first job yet. He worked and provided for them; she was financially dependent on him. Even once she got a small job, she still didn’t have enough money to make it on her own.
So, when he became physically abusive, she felt that she had no way of leaving. She was trapped. Then, when she became pregnant with my mom, at which point she was still quite young herself, the situation was worsened by the child she now had to consider.
I often imagine how different her life would’ve been if she hadn’t been stuck with my grandpa. I love her so much, and it hurts to think about how much she suffered in her life. No one should have to go through that, but currently the law in Connecticut does not protect the children in the state from the same fate.
Currently, seven states—Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island—have set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and eliminated all exceptions. They recognized the danger that child marriage poses and took concrete action to protect the children of their states.
It’s time for Connecticut to do the same. Child marriage can easily translate to forced marriage, as the age of majority— (when children become legal adults and attain the rights of adulthood—) is 18 or above in every U.S. state. Despite being married, these children have limited legal rights, which can trap them in these marriages.
There is a myriad of evidence that shows just how harmful child marriage is to these children. Individuals in the U.S. who were married before age 18 report high rates of physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse during their marriage as well as unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.
This dismal situation is even further exacerbated for teen mothers, as those teen mothers who marry and then divorce are more likely to suffer economic hardship and instability than teen mothers who stay single – and marriage before age 18 has a 70-80% divorce rate.
Child marriage brings no benefit to the state, and only adds harm to already vulnerable children. is extremely harmful and needs to be eradicated.
H.B. 6569 will greatly improve the lives of children all across Connecticut, and give agency to those feeling pressured to marry at a young age. Connecticut needs to follow in the footsteps of the seven states who have set their minimum age for marriage at 18 with no exceptions. We can help protect these children; all we need to do is pass this bill.
Gia Cook is a member of the Yale Democrats.