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Yesterday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 1705, a bill to limit marriage to adults age 18 or older, with a narrow exception only for minors who have been emancipated (given the legal rights and status of adults) by court order.  This effectively institutes an age “floor” of 16, as one must be 16 or older to seek emancipation in Texas. The Tahirih Justice Center – national experts on forced and child marriage in the United States – is proud to have helped draft and advance this bill through the legislative process with bipartisan co-sponsors Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano) and Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston).

Based on data that the Tahirih Justice Center obtained and analyzed from the Texas Department of State Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, nearly 40,000 children under age 18 (and as young as age 12) were married in the state of Texas between 2000 and 2014. The vast majority were girls married to adult men, and many of those men were significantly older than the girls. Texas’ new minimum marriage age law will not only help protect Texas’ children from forced marriages, but also from the lifelong, irreparable harm that can come from marrying too young, even if by choice. These harms can include up to 80% divorce rates, 50% high school drop-out rates, much greater likelihood of future poverty, more short and long-term medical and mental health problems, and increased vulnerability to violence.

Going forward in Texas, only legal adults capable of supporting and advocating for themselves can enter the legal contract and potentially lifelong commitment that marriage entails.

Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Jeanne Smoot, issued the following statement on the new law:

Tahirih is thrilled to have partnered with two passionate legislative champions and is humbled by the inspiring survivors who shared their painful pasts to prevent future tragedies. We applaud Texas for closing legal loopholes in its minimum marriage age laws that have put far too many girls at risk, for far too long. To date, Texas had one of the worst child marriage rates in the country, but with this new law, the state is instead at the forefront of the national movement to tackle child marriage in America.”

The Tahirih Justice Center has led the movement to end forced and child marriage in the United States since our groundbreaking 2011 national survey, which identified thousands of cases of forced marriage, many involving girls under age 18. Last year, Tahirih drafted and spearheaded the bipartisan passage of a new law that made Virginia the first state in the country to limit marriage to legal adults, and we are currently collaborating with key stakeholders in states across the country to introduce and pass bills to address child marriage.

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.