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First State ban on child marriage clears General Assembly

Delaware Public Media

Delaware is poised to be the first in the nation to ban all child marriages.

A bill enacting a ban is in Gov. John Carney’s (D) hands after it sailed through the state Senate Thursday with unanimous 21- vote.

Delaware is currently one of 25 states that allows a child of any age to get married. Right now, minors in Delaware can marry if a Family Court judge approves it. But this legislation would stop marriages of anyone under 18 years old, regardless of the situation.

Since 2000, more than 200 children in the Delaware have married. Most were girls - some as young as 14 years old - marrying adult men.

Family law attorney Kelsey Lee is with Unchained At Last, a nonprofit organization that helps people forced into marriages. Lee said minors have fewer legal protections than an adult - like being able to hire a divorce lawyer.

“Children here in Delaware cannot file a legal action in their own name," she said. "A parent or guardian would have to do it for them. We know children who are forced to marry - it’s almost always the parents, so it is highly unlikely that the parent will allow them to divorce.”

Lee said the married child lacks legal protections that a married adult enjoys.

“The adult man has rights she does not," she said. "The house is in his name, the car is in his name, the checking account is in his name. He can get a divorce and she can’t.”

The bill would also eliminate the marriage exception in the state’s statutory rape law. The state considers sex between a minor and an adult who’s 30 years old or older rape unless they’re married.

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