The state House of Representatives has advanced legislation to prohibit child marriage in Pennsylvania.
House Bill 360 would make 18 the minimum age for obtaining a marriage license, with no exceptions.
Under current state law, a marriage license may be issued to an applicant younger than 16 with court approval, or to an applicant older than 16 but younger than 18 with the consent of a parent or guardian.
Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Franklin/Fulton) said his proposal is part of an effort to address the crime of human trafficking.
“This bill serves to protect our youth from being coerced into marriage and potentially exploited,” Topper said in a statement. “Human trafficking reaches people of all aspects of life, especially children between the ages of 12 and 14.”
Topper said the majority of child marriages involve young girls and adult men. He said the relationships would otherwise lead to statutory rape charges, but an exception in the law prevents charges from being filed when cases involve spouses, despite the marriage being between a minor and an adult.
“Children under the age of 18 cannot vote, serve in the military and buy alcohol or tobacco products, among other things,” Topper added. “Marriage is a life-altering decision and those who enter into it must be of a certain maturity that comes with age.”
The bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate where companion legislation, Senate Bill 81, has been introduced.