Child marriage is still legal in Alaska, and Sen. Gardner wants it to end

Alaska State CapitolThe Alaska State Capitol as photographed in March 2017. (Photo by gillfoto/Creative Commons)

It’s just a few days into 2018, and we’re already facing some pretty disturbing news stories about the world we live in. Among them is that it’s still legal to for adults to marry children as young as 14 in the state of Alaska.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, is seeking to change that with a new bill that would raise the minimum age for all marriages in Alaska to 18, effectively ending any legal routes for child marriage. The fact that child marriage was legal at all in Alaska was news to many after Gardner announced the bill.

“It astonishes me that our state will allow a child this young to marry,” Gardner said in a news release. “Early marriage forces a girl into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature. … These young children need to live out their childhood and focus on their education.”

Currently, Alaska law allows people older than 16 but younger than 18 to marry with the written consent of their parents or guardians. The approval of a superior court judge is required for a marriage of a person who’s older than 14.

According to Gardner’s announcement, there are only a few cases of child marriage in Alaska, but they include one case involving a 55-year-old spouse:

Between 2006 and 2015, there were four cases of child marriage where the child was under the age of 15 years old, according to Vital Records. Three of these cases had the child marrying someone in their late 20s. During the same period, Alaska also had 12 cases of divorces involving children less than 15 years of age, with 75% of these involving spouses older than 30. The oldest involved a spouse older than 55.

The full announcement:

Sen. Gardner Prefiles Legislation Raising the Minimum Age to Marry

ANCHORAGE-Today, Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) announced she has prefiled legislation to raise the minimum age to marry in Alaska to 18 or emancipated minors above the age of 16. A child in Alaska currently can marry at 14 years old with the approval of a Judge.

“It astonishes me that our state will allow a child this young to marry,” said Sen. Gardner. “Early marriage forces a girl into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature.”

Between 2006 and 2015, there were four cases of child marriage where the child was under the age of 15 years old, according to Vital Records. Three of these cases had the child marrying someone in their late 20s. During the same period, Alaska also had 12 cases of divorces involving children less than 15 years of age, with 75% of these involving spouses older than 30. The oldest involved a spouse older than 55.

“Even though Alaska does not have a high rate of child marriage, we need to start doing the right thing,” said Sen. Gardner. “These young children need to live out their childhood and focus on their education.”

In the US, child marriage leads to many adverse effects. These include a divorce rate exceeding 70%, reduced education and employment opportunities, as well as mental and physical health problems. Texas, Virginia and New York have recently passed laws to increase the minimum age of marriage.

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1 Comment on "Child marriage is still legal in Alaska, and Sen. Gardner wants it to end"

  1. This is a no-brainer. Frankly, they shouldn’t be making any exceptions. But if they’re going to keep the age 16 minimum for emancipated minors, they should at least put in some kind of caveat that says that if the 16 year old decides to divorce their spouse while they are still a teen, then if the spouse is over ten years older, they get to go to jail for child abuse. Maybe that would run some of these pedophiles off.

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