Proposed law cracks down on 'child marriages'

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A proposed law to raise the legal age of marriage from 16 to 17 is making its way through the Georgia State Capitol. 

House Bill 228, authored by State Rep. Andrew Welch (R - McDonough), would raise the age of marriage in Georgia and require parents to appear before a judge to emancipate their child for the purpose of matrimony only. The spouse must only be four years older than the teenager, Welch said, curbing potential dangers for children who could marry adults decades older. 

"It may not be in the best interest of the child to get married to that individual," Welch said. "A child at the age of 16, 17 is undergoing significant mental development. There's an opportunity for manipulation, cohesion, or even abuse," the State Representative said, hoping a judge will examine factors for marriage before granting a teenager emancipation. 

Welch showed FOX 5 statistics pulled from records at the Georgia Department of Public Health: there were 10,000 child marriages between 2000 and 2015.  Hundreds showed a gap of age 10 years or more; dozens had an age gap of more than three times the age of 16. 

The Tahirih Justice Center aids women fleeing domestic violence and has an advocacy office in Metro Atlanta. Leaders tell FOX 5, they've aided child brides in the state of Georgia escape from forced marriages.  State agencies have also intervened on behalf of the welfare of the young bride, an agency spokesperson said. 

Teenage girls who marry young could face abuse, be forced into human trafficking, or lack of options due to an education, representatives from the center said. The advocacy organization has pushed for similar legislation in other states. 

The bill passed the House with 13 Nays; none of the lawmakers FOX 5 News emailed Tuesday night responded with reasons for their opposition. One house member told FOX 5 "no comment." 

Lawmakers tell FOX 5, some peers voiced concerns over the lack of a marriage option for pregnant teenagers; others expressed that their grandparents or parents had married at such a young age. 

The bill is set to be heard on the Senate Floor Thursday morning. It can be read here.