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Report: Maryland marriage laws make forced child marriage more likely

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate current provisions in Maryland law that allow a 16- or 17-year-old to get married with parental permission or proof of pregnancy. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, has made two attempts to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 and said she intends to bring legislation again in 2018. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Maryland’s marriage laws have several “loopholes” which can make forced or coerced child marriage more likely, according to a report released Wednesday by the Tahirih Justice Center.

Though Maryland does set a minimum age for marriage — 25 states do not — there is no official proof of age required to get a marriage license, pregnancy can lower the age of marriage below 18 and clerks rather than judges approve marriage licenses, according to the report, “Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America.”

Maryland law allows a 16- or 17-year-old to get married with parental permission or proof of pregnancy. A 15-year-old can get married with both. More than 3,000 underage individuals were married between 2000 and 2014 in the state and the vast majority of young people getting married before 18 are girls married to adult men.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County, has made two attempts to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 and said she intends to bring legislation again in 2018.

Atterbeary said at a press briefing Tuesday on the report said she hopes to have enough support to pass a bright-line rule in the next session.

“For Maryland, sometimes, the legislators have to hear things a couple of times before it starts to sink in,” she said.

Virginia became the first state to pass a bright-line rule that prohibits marriage before 18 with no exceptions in 2016.

The Tahirih Justice Center is a nonprofit that aims to end violence against immigrant women and girls. Wednesday’s report, part of its forced marriage initiative, found more than 200,000 individuals under the age of 18 were married nationwide between 2000 and 2015.

“The public and policymakers are beginning to realize that America has a serious child marriage problem and that it hurts children here just as it does globally and that we’re long overdue as a nation to tackle it,” said Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for policy and strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center.

Virginia became the first state to pass a bright-line rule that prohibits marriage before 18 with no exceptions in 2016.

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