Photo credit: Charity organization, KAFA Violence and Exploitation 

by Tammy Caputi

State Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale recently proposed legislation to ban all marriages for people under the age of 18. Arizona is one of 25 states without a minimum age for marriage, and would have been the first state in the country to ban underage marriages without exception. We have a minimum age for driving and alcohol consumption and voting, but not for making a decision that will impact one’s entire life. The vast majority of child marriages are girls marrying older men. We say a 15 year old girl isn’t mature enough to order a drink or get behind the wheel of a car, but she is capable of entering into a binding legal contract to form a family with an older man. Seriously?

HB 2006 was amended to prohibit marriage under the age of 16, but children ages 16 and 17 could still get married with a parent’s consent. What about the consent of the girl? Girls at this age are most vulnerable to forced marriages. Child marriage is often performed with pressure from parents, without a girl’s consent, and contrary to her best interests. What is the benefit to a 16 year old girl to be rushed into marriage? What would be the negative to waiting two years or more? U.S. foreign policy calls the practice of child marriage a “human-rights abuse”. It contributes to economic hardship and leads to underinvestment in girls’ educational and health care needs. It’s not ok if young girls are married off in other countries, but we’re OK with it in our own?

There are proven disadvantages for child brides concerning their health, safety, education, and loss of the basic human right of making decisions about their own lives. Brides under 15 are 5 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20’s, and when a woman is under 18 her baby is 60% more likely to die in its first year of life than a baby born to a woman just two years older. Few child brides are permitted to stay in school, and they are far more likely to suffer domestic violence and sexual abuse. Political leaders often consider the prohibition of child marriage a taboo issue since it is supported by religious culture. Justifying discrimination of girls on the grounds of religion should be unacceptable.

Republicans in our state house felt an outright ban would have been “too restrictive.” Confining girls to a role of motherhood and domestic labor isn’t too restrictive, but keeping men from marrying these girls is? Who are we afraid of restricting? Ugenti-Rita said she was comfortable with the compromise because “age plays a major role in one’s ability to comprehend the magnitude of a decision”. A 15 year old can’t comprehend marriage to an older man, but at 16 she can?

Republicans who voted against the bill argued that many underage girls enter happy marriages. Rep David Stringer, the bill’s most outspoken opponent told the story of his grandmother who was married at 16 and had 10 children. This is a good thing? I wonder how willing and happy his grandmother was after 10 births. Stringer said, “had they not been married, I would not be here”. His grandmother couldn’t have had him at 18 instead of 16? Who cares about grandma, Stringer’s here!

Rep Noel Campbell knows “plenty of exceptions where girls are married before they are 16 to a loving husband with children”. Really? Plenty of exceptions? They couldn’t be equally happy waiting 2 years? WHAT THE HECK IS THE RUSH TO GET MARRIED, I DON’T GET IT!

Another opponent of the bill said people should decide when to get married, rather than the “nanny state” deciding. I love that one – ok for the “nanny state” to tell us who we can marry and whether or not we can reproduce, but how dare they deprive men of abusing young girls!

In 82% of these marriages, underage girls were paired with adult men. Who is protecting these children? Clearly not their parents, nor the “nanny state”! How are we standing for this child abuse?

The bill now goes to the Senate where it will face another public hearing.

Tammy Caputi is the owner of Yale Electric West, Inc., a distributor of lighting and electrical supplies. Tammy has spent the last 20 years lighting up the Phoenix Valley! Tammy has a B.A. from Wellesley College in Economics and Women’s Studies and an MBA from Simmons College Graduate School of Management. She is active in the Phoenix Jewish Community, in her local legislative district, in her children’s schools, and in the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce. She currently serves on the City of Scottsdale Development Review Board. She is energized and outspoken and committed to working towards a better Arizona.