Missouri Is the Latest State to Crack Down on Child Marriage

by | July 17, 2018

By Jack Suntrup

Gov. Mike Parson signed on Friday legislation that institutes a minimum age of marriage in Missouri, capping an effort among lawmakers and advocates to crack down on child marriage in the state.

When the law takes effect on Aug. 28, no one under the age of 16 will be able to get married in Missouri. Anyone older than 21 will be unable to marry anyone under 18, according to the law.

"Missouri will no longer be a haven for underage marriages. We're protecting children from predators," Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, who sponsored the change, said in May after the measure's passage.

Missouri was one of 27 states in the country with technically no age limit on marriage, according to a Post-Dispatch report last year. Minors can marry at 15 with a parent's consent, and, alternatively, can seek a court order at any age to receive a license.

The new law still requires parental consent if the teenager is a minor. It also removes the ability for courts to issue marriage licenses to minors if the judge finds good cause.

Missouri's loose regulations meant that the state had one of the highest rates of child marriage in the country, according to the Tahirih Justice Center. The center counted 7,342 minors that were married in Missouri between 2000 and 2014.

Eighty-five percent of those were girls, according to the group.

Evans and other proponents of tighter laws say they are trying to combat an overlooked form of coercion and trafficking, where parents can force children into marriage against the child's best interests.

One example from 2016 was when an Idaho father brought his 14-year-old pregnant daughter to Kansas City to marry a 24-year-old man. The man was later convicted of raping the girl, even though they were married.

Another provision in the legislation Parson signed removes the statute of limitations for sexual offenses that involve a minor.

Senate Bill 655, the child marriage bill, was one of several pieces of legislation the Missouri Legislature approved this year aimed at addressing sexual and domestic offenses -- at the same time then- Gov. Eric Greitens was battling allegations of sexual misconduct of his own.

An omnibus education measure Parson signed Friday includes language requiring that schools teach the concept of sexual consent to students during sexual education courses.

Greitens, before leaving office, signed legislation outlawing so-called "revenge porn." The law makes it a felony to intentionally publish online a photo or video of someone's naked or partially naked body without their permission.

Greitens also signed a measure allowing local prosecutors to convene "domestic violence fatality review panels" after domestic-violence related homicides so that law enforcement can assess what red flags, if any, went unnoticed before a dispute spiraled.

The law also eases access to the state's crime compensation fund for victims of sexual violence, institutes new tracking and processing requirements for rape kits, and allows victims to track their abusers if the abuser violates a protective order and is outfitted with electronic monitoring gear.

Another measure expanded the state's "Safe at Home" program, which allows victims of "domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, human trafficking or stalking" and their minor children to wipe their address information from public records.

The new law expands the availability of the program to victims of any crime who fear for their safety.

(c)2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch