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Missouri still allows some child marriages, but a new bill would end the practice

Missouri House adopts stricter dress code for female lawmakers
Jeff Roberson
State Senators Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City) and Holly Thompson Rehder (R-Sikeston) are co-sponsoring the bill.

Currently, 16 and 17 year-olds in Missouri are allowed to marry someone 21 years old or younger with their parent's consent. State Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat from Kansas City, is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to raise the marriage age to 18.

Once a person turns 16 in the state of Missouri, they are legally allowed to get married — with parental consent — to someone 21 years old or younger. But bipartisan legislation currently under consideration in the Missouri Senate would change that, preventing all people under 18 from receiving a marriage license, with no exceptions.

State Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat from Kansas City who is co-sponsoring the bill, says the practice of child marriage poses serious risks to children, including the potential for rape and abuse.

"We know that the outcomes are much worse for children in those marriages," Arthur told KCUR's Up To Date. "I think it is really imperative that we take legislative action to help protect children from the harm of child marriage, and most importantly that we help safeguard their futures."

Only 10 states in the U.S. have outright banned all marriages for people under 18. Between 2000 and 2018, over 8,000 children were legally married in Missouri — and most of them were young girls wed to adult men.

“Often there’s abuse in the home, lack of educational and economic attainment, poverty... and all of these people agree that anyone under the age of 18 isn’t ready to make this life-changing decision," Arthur said.

Last year the non-profit Human Rights Watch gave Missouri an “F” grade — ranking it among the worst states in the U.S. — for its failure to meet international children’s rights standards, in large part because of its child marriage laws.

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