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Child marriage protections fail, child genital mutilation protections pass

A bill regarding child marriage divides lawmakers in the Statehouse.
Posted at 10:16 PM, Mar 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-15 14:59:23-04

BOISE, Idaho — Unlike other child protection bills, such as the female genital mutilation bill, Bill 98 on child marriage failed on the House floor recently.

Representative Melissa Wintrow, (D) Boise, says she first thought of this bill when she was on a human trafficking sub-committee.

"And I kind of had an 'Aha' moment like, 'Hey... kids could actually be trafficked this way.'"

That's when the statehouse saw Bill 98 come to light.

"I'm just suggesting, let's raise the minimum age to 16."

As it stands now in Idaho, a child under the age of 16 technically could get married as long as they have both a parent's and the court's consent. For 16- and 17-year-olds, they would need only their parent's consent to marry.

"I think we can all agree that developmentally, psychologically, and physically, people need to enjoy their childhood."

The bill also proposed that consent of the minor be required--aligning it with Idaho's statutory rape laws, which say 16- or 17-year-olds cannot consent to sexual activity with anyone more than three years their age.

"We have an obligation to protect these children. Hopefully, first and foremost, it's the parent's obligation," said Representative Bryan Zollinger, (R) Idaho Falls.

On February 28, the bill was shot down with a 28 to 39 vote. Rep. Zollinger was one of those nay votes.

"I sat on the committee that it was presented to, and I think, on the committee, everybody was going, 'Yeah, we don't want child marriages,'" said Zollinger.

Then, he changed his mind.

"17-year-olds can enroll in college--many of them are these days. So, we felt like--that parental choice, parental control over 16- and 17-year-olds was fine," said Zollinger.

Wintrow disagrees.

"Not all parents are good parents."

With Idaho having one of the highest child marriage rates in the US, Zollinger says his decision came down to this:

"Court would have had to approve a marriage that the parent's already sanctioned for a 17-year-old, so we kind of felt like... that's an extra burden on the courts."

The bill is effectively killed for this session, but can be revised and presented again in the future.