Williams Bill Ending Child Marriage Signed

DOVER – Delaware is now the first state in the nation to end child marriage.

Championed by Rep. Kim Williams and signed by Governor John Carney Wednesday, House Bill 337 will protect children from forced marriage by setting a minimum age of 18 to marry in Delaware. Previously, children of any age could marry if the court approved an underage marriage petition, creating a dangerous loophole. 

Advocates working to end child marriage in the United States, like Unchained At Last, have said that children who marry have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, having adverse health issues and being victims of abuse. These are lifelong consequences that leave children trapped – often with no legal capacity to escape abusive situations or find relief at a domestic violence shelters.

“Children under 18 have no legal standing – they cannot file for divorce, utilize a domestic violence shelter, apply for a loan or open a credit card. They cannot enter any legal contract, but until this bill was signed they could be married as a child without any way of escaping an abusive marriage,” said Rep. Williams, D-Newport.

“Now that we have closed this loophole in Delaware law, children will be protected from forced marriage and its dangerous consequences. I am so proud that Delaware is leading the way to protect children, and I hope that other states follow suit.”

Sen. Anthony Delcollo, prime sponsor of HB 337, praised the passage of the bill.

“The law, up until the passage of this measure, included an exception for circumstances that would otherwise be considered statutory rape,” said Sen. Delcollo, R-Elsmere. “This bill would eliminate this backward and, what I consider, unacceptable exception.  For every other purpose, we view individuals under the age of 18 as having insufficient legal capacity to make decisions, enter into contracts, hire attorneys , and do all similar acts. It flies in the face of reason to think that the incredibly important decision to marry should be any different.”

Sen. Nicole Poore, who managed the bill on the Senate Floor, said it was inspiring to see the bill passed and signed.

“Watching HB 337’s passage was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen on the Senate floor,” said Sen. Poore, D-New Castle. “There’s a very real connection between forced marriage and poverty, sexual assault and human trafficking. The fact that the bill passed unanimously should highlight how serious this problem is and how hard Rep. Williams and the advocates from Unchained at Last have worked on this bill.”