Child Marriage Ban Unanimously Passes House

An Unchained at Last protest in Philadelphia in April 2018. Photo credit: Charlotte Reese

The state House has unanimously passed a bill to end child marriage in Pennsylvania, according to the bill’s co-prime sponsor State Rep. Perry Warren.

Warren, who worked with Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), thanked other members of the legislative body for coming together in a bipartisan fashion. The bill completely prohibits marriage if one party is under 18, with no exceptions.

State Rep. Perry Warren meets with Fraidy Reiss of Unchained At Last to film a documentary in 2017.

“I am gratified that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle saw that this bill is about child protection,” Warren (D-Bucks) said. “Studies have shown that the child is often not in control of a decision to marry before 18, and a child under 18 does not have the legal rights of an adult.”

While many are surprised, child marriages are fairly easy to arrange in Pennsylvania under current law. A court can approve marriages if one party is under 16 years old. However, between 16 and 18 a person only needs their parents’ consent.

These marriages can be dangerous and exploitative, according to Warren. There is often a higher risk for domestic abuse, and the child often has no further educational or economic opportunities.

Founder of Unchained At Last Fraidy Reiss celebrated when New Jersey and Delaware both passed similar laws last year. This is unprecedented territory in PA, as the bill’s version from the last legislative session never made it to a vote.

“I’m really grateful I’ve been able to be a small part of it,” Reiss said in 2017. “It’s surprising to me that there has been pushback from some legislators in state after state.”

This time, there was no pushback.

More than 167,000 children married adults older than themselves throughout the United States between 2000 and 2010. A vast majority are girls; some are younger than 12 years old.

H.B. 360 passed committee in mid-May. The bill now moves to the state Senate.