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Missouri Just Passed a Law Limiting Child Marriages Throughout the State

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The “Show Me State” will now require brides and grooms to prove they are 16 or older, in the latest move toward preventing child marriages in the US.

Missouri has joined a growing number of neighboring states in passing legislation that prevents minors from being wed, reported News-Press Now.

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“Missouri was a place where people were coming from out of state, say if they had gotten someone pregnant and they didn’t want to be charged with statutory rape, they would come to Missouri and marry that younger person,” said Ed Wildberger, the Buchanan County Recorder of Deeds, in an interview with News-Press Now.

“There was no age limit at all,” he continued. “If you were 15 or under, you had to go before a judge with your parents and, with their consent, get the consent of the judge to be married.”

Wildberger said that the previously lax child marriage laws also invited other abuses, such as human trafficking and sexual exploitation. A handful of stories that grabbed national headlines in recent years helped move the needle toward modernizing laws in the state.

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One pregnant 15-year-old had fled Iowa with her 21-year-old boyfriend in 2014 in order to take advantage of Missouri’s previously permissive attitude toward child brides.

“I never wanted to get married, ever, like in my life,” she told the Kansas City Star this spring. “But I did it anyway, because it was either that or he go to prison, like, forever.”

More than 1,000 children the same age have married in the state since 1999, according to the report. Some traveled up to 1,800 miles to the destination wedding spot, from as far off as Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Florida, and every other state in the region: Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee, noted the Kansas City Star.

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But now, with the passage of Senate Bill 655, all that has ended.

“It was obvious that ours weren’t [modern laws] and that’s why they were bringing people to the state,” Wildberger told News-Press Now. “It was becoming a marriage racket.”

The new law, however, doesn’t ban child marriage outright. Only two states in the US — Delaware and New Jersey — have outlawed marriages with children under the age of 18 without exceptions.