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After 7 long years, Maryland has taken action to protect children by limiting child marriage in the state. House Bill 83 does not ban child marriage in the state of Maryland altogether, but it is a major step in the right direction and responds to many of the concerns raised by advocates and survivors. The new law passed with strong, bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate.

It raises Maryland’s minimum marriage age from 15 to 17 and establishes a protective process for any 17-year-old that seeks to marry. In that process, all 17-year-olds:
• Go before a judge, who will evaluate:
– The minor’s maturity and capacity for self-sufficiency
– Whether marriage is in the minor’s best interest
– Whether the minor is facing force, fraud, or coercion
– Whether the intended spouse has any history of crimes against minors or of protective orders issued against them
• Have an attorney appointed to represent them in that process
• Receive information on their rights as a married minor and on the services available should they face violence or abuse in the marriage
• Are clearly granted the legal right to file for divorce

17-year-olds may only apply for authorization to marry in the county where they live, ensuring that children from other states cannot be brought into Maryland for marriage.

“Girls who marry underage often face devastating lifelong consequences, from worse health outcomes to higher dropout rates and increased likelihood of living in poverty,” said Casey Carter Swegman, Director of Public Policy at Tahirih Justice Center. “While we waited for the legislature to act, year after year dozens of Maryland children were married and likely now face steep odds and greater risk of harm and abuse. We are hopeful that this legislation, while it falls short of ending child marriage altogether, will mean far fewer Marylanders face this fate and those that do will know their rights and have an opportunity to get help. And we look forward to the day when legislators in Maryland and across the country will see fit to set the age of marriage at 18 without exceptions.”

We are grateful to Del. Vanessa E. Atterbeary for championing this bill since day 1 and to Delegate Emily Shetty for ensuring Senate amendments kept the bill strong, and to Senator Sarah Elfreth for shepherding the bill through the Senate JPR committee. We are grateful and proud of Sasha Taylor for her testimony, advocacy, and leadership during this fight as a survivor of child marriage, and all the other survivors who showed up over a seven-year campaign to demand that Maryland take action.

This change was long overdue to protect Maryland’s children and to end the state’s reputation as a destination for child marriage.

For further comments on this topic, please email [email protected].

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national, nonprofit organization that serves immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. By amplifying the experiences of survivors in communities, courts, and Congress, Tahirih’s mission is to create a world in which all people share equal rights and live in safety and with dignity.