Adults in Michigan are marrying children as young as 14 and it’s perfectly legal in Michigan

Fox47 News reports – Few people know because the state hides the marriage documents, sealing them from the public.

Technically it’s legal in Michigan, just maybe not for much longer.

There’s a Michigan state law on the books from the 1880s that allows kids as young as 14 to get married.

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Two state senators, Rick Jones and Margaret O’Brien, both Republicans, want to get rid of it.

They’ve introduced a two-bill package that would raise the age limit to 16. It would also require 16- and 17-years-olds to get written permission from both living parents before they can tie the knot.

Sen. Rick Jones, of Grand Ledge, is sponsoring the bills. He said a 14-year-old who gets married can’t even legally consummate it.

“It’s outrageous the age of consent for Michigan is 16, yet we are allowing a 14- and 15-year-old, usually girls, to be signed into marriage. It’s got to be stopped,” said Jones.

Current law requires 16-and 17-year-olds to get consent from one parent.

But children who are 14 or 15 need it from a parent and a judge.

An NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids reports 116 child marriages happened in Michigan in 2014. That’s the most recent year we have data for.

The bills are on the agenda for Tuesday’s judiciary committee meeting.

When Wood TV recently looked into the number of child marriages taking place every year in Michigan, they were astounded to discover, that the majority of Michigan’s underage marriages, 84 percent, involve girls marrying adult men. It took a Freedom of Information Act request to discover some teen girls are marrying men three times their age. One record listed a 15-year-old bride and a 48-year-old groom.

Milton Mack once presided over the secret marriages as a probate court judge. Now the state court administrator, he wants to abolish them.

“This was designed for a situation where a child had gotten pregnant and they wanted to legitimize the child,” he said of the current law.

But he said it can be used as a legal loophole.

“Judges have seen cases where they come in and the marriage is basically to absolve the older male of any criminal responsibility,” he said.

The law that seals underage marriage records dates back to 1897. The law that set marriage age rules, including the approval requirements for underage weddings, dates back even further, to 1887.

Fourteen-year-olds getting married sounds like something that wouldn’t happen in Michigan—unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Child marriage is alive and well among the Yemeni-Americans in Dearborn, and apparently, so is marrying your first cousin.

Amal was 15 years old, her best friend Jasmin stopped coming to school.

They were both freshmen at Fordson High School, in Dearborn, Michigan, home to America’s largest and most diverse Arab community. When Jasmin didn’t show up to their English-language learners (ELL) class that Wednesday, Amal assumed she was sick. But a day soon became a week, which quickly turned into a month. Amal tells me she suspected early on that Jasmin was not coming back.

“Her parents wanted her married,” Amal, who is Lebanese, says. “She was Yemeni—they always do that very young.” (Some names have been changed to protect privacy.)

Dearborn’s Yemeni population has grown significantly over the past five years, largely due to an influx of refugees fleeing the ongoing war in Yemen, according to a spokesperson for the City of Dearborn. More than one-third of Dearborn’s approximately 100,000 residents identify as Arab, and of those approximately 8 percent are Yemeni, which includes immigrants and Americans of Yemeni descent. Like most immigrant groups, the Yemeni bring their social customs with them.

Child marriage is one such norm, and its practice has affected Dearborn’s Yemeni girls for decades. On the south side of the city, where many Yemeni immigrants have settled, it’s impossible to know just how many girls like Jasmin drop out of school every year. As Danielle White, a teacher in an English as a second language (ESL) program told me, many of them “just go off the grid.” “They drop out of school. It’s like they’re under the radar here—nobody knows they exist. Sometimes they go to Yemen for the summer, get married over there, and when they come back, nobody knows they’re here,” she says.

Rola Bazzi-Gates, special education coordinator for Dearborn Public Schools, knows the Yemeni community well from her 14 years as a social worker, and says she often heard of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 marrying their first cousins, another Yemeni norm.

Liberal state laws in Michigan make such child marriages relatively easy to obtain. Michigan is one of 26 states that doesn’t have an age floor, meaning children can get married at any age if certain conditions are met. The state will legally recognize the marriage of a 16- or 17-year-old if the parents consent. If the child is 15 years old or younger, approval of the Wayne County probate court must be granted as well.

The need for court approval hasn’t slowed the rate of such child marriages. According to a 2017 Frontline report on child marriages in America, Michigan’s child marriage rate in 2010 was 20 per 10,000 marriages, higher than its neighboring state of Ohio, which had a rate of 12 per 10,000, but lower than rates in Kentucky (73) and West Virginia (63). Although child marriage rates have been steadily decreasing nationwide, Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained At Last, an advocacy group working to outlaw marriage before the age of 18, told Frontline it’s still staggering. “The number was so much higher than I had thought it would be,” she said. –Weekly Standard

 


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