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The Tahirih Justice Center – national experts on forced and child marriage in the United States – is very concerned that HB 5442, a bill setting new conditions for the issuance of marriage licenses to individuals under age 18, does not include several critical safeguards to help protect minors from abuse and coercion.

Tahirih strongly supported HB 5442 as-introduced to set the legal minimum marriage age at 18, without exception. Tahirih continues to believe this approach offers the best possible regime of protection against forced or coerced marriages, and against the many well-documented risks and harms of marriage before age 18, even if voluntary.

HB 5442 has since been amended in ways that limit but do not end child marriage in Connecticut. The amended bill, which passed the House of Representatives on May 9, does take some steps to address the most alarming aspects of the status quo, but it unfortunately stops well short of the protection it clearly intends.

Tahirih has identified at least three critical protections that are missing from HB 5442:

  1. An attorney to represent a minor when appearing before a judge to petition for permission to marry underage;
  2. An opportunity for the minor to be interviewed by the judge in private; and
  3. That the minor be granted emancipation at the same time as permission to marry.

Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Jeanne Smoot, underscored the importance of granting emancipation before a marriage occurs:

“Without emancipation, a minor who is granted permission to marry is still, under the law, a child. Emancipation only after marriage comes too late for a girl who, before marriage, lacks the full rights and options a legal adult would have to prevent it from happening in the first place. She can face forced sex on the wedding night and every night thereafter. At that point, she may despair that she has passed the point of no return, and give up trying to escape.”

The Tahirih Justice Center is working with allies to urge the Connecticut Senate, at a minimum, to amend HB 5442 to add the three critical safeguards that Tahirih has identified. Without them, even if HB 5442 is enacted, the abuse and exploitation of children in the guise of marriage will evade detection, and Connecticut’s children will be left without meaningful protection.

Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Jeanne Smoot, is available for comment on this topic. Please contact [email protected] to arrange an interview.