WASHINGTON — Child marriages in Maryland are still legal, after a bill to stop them failed again. But a lawmaker has vowed to continue her fight to end child marriages in Maryland.
“I’ve heard so many stories that have brought me to tears,” said Maryland Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard County.
Atterbeary has introduced child marriage bills in the Maryland legislature. But for the second year in a row, her bill to end child marriages in Maryland has failed. Atterbeary said she planned to introduce another bill next year to raise the marriage age in Maryland.
“I’m really hoping Maryland next year can do the right thing,” she said.
It might be hard to imagine that child marriages are still taking place. But this problem is not just happening in some other country — it is happening here in our own backyard.
Fraidy Reiss with Unchained At Last said that nearly 250,000 children as young as 12 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Reiss said some of these marriages started out as statutory rape. She said child marriages put the child at greater risk of being involved with domestic abuse, dropping out of school and living in poverty.
Unchained At Last, a nonprofit working to stop child marriages in America, and Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit that helps victims flee domestic violence, are two forces behind a national movement to end child marriages.
Last year the organizations were successful in changing Virginia’s law, and they continue to work to change the law in other states.
“So this bill has been incredibly, incredibly important,” Atterbeary said.
Under current law, a 15-year-old can marry in Maryland if they have parental consent and are pregnant or had a child.
“Within the past 10 years (in Maryland), we’ve had about 3,200 child marriages and these are 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds,” Atterbeary said. “The majority of these, over half are girls marrying men that are 10, 15, 20 years their senior.”
She said there is a significant amount of abuse — sexual, physical and emotional abuse — in these marriages. “And it’s a situation that they can’t get out of because they are (minors),” she said, and they have no rights.
Atterbeary said although her bill (HB 799) failed, she has made lawmakers and Maryland residents more aware of the problem.