A bill to require all counties to report the number of child marriages to the state on a quarterly basis was passed unanimously by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Assembly Bill 1286 was also passed unanimously in April by the Assembly Health Committee.
Authored by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), AB 1286 would have the State Registrar collect all child marriage data each quarter from the counties and report it each quarter, as well as give a document to the legislature on the figures each year. AB 1286 had only originally required counties to send in data twice a year, but this was amended last month due to a push for more reporting on the matter.
Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris wrote the bill with the intent on providing more accurate data on child marriages in California with an ultimate goal of ending all child marriages in California. She says that having no minimum age to marry is a major problem, and can be backed up by having accurate data on the extent of it in the state.
“California is one of only 13 states that does not have a minimum age requirement for marriage,” said Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris on Wednesday. “Previous legislative efforts to end child marriage in California have fallen flat, in part because opponents assert that this is not a real problem. This data will help substantiate what we know to be true – child marriage is a persistent and pervasive problem in California.”
Currently, while the age to marry without parental permission in California is 18, there is no minimum age to marry in the state if parental permission is given and the court approves the marriage. While many child marriages in California only occur in cases of allowing pregnant minors to marry, it also covers other cases such as arranged marriages. As of 2021, California is only 1 of 13 states that continues to have no minimum marriage age.
While the Census Bureau estimates show that at least 13,000 child marriages have occurred in California since 2015, the state currently doesn’t provide data to provide an accurate figure. Similarly, the Pew Research Center has found that California has roughly the sixth-highest total of child marriages in the country, but has no state data to provide a more accurate figure.
Bipartisan support for AB 1286
Nonprofit organizations and the U.S. Census Bureau estimate that at least 13,000 child marriages have occurred in California over a five-year span. The Pew Research Center estimates that California has the sixth-highest number of child marriages in the country. However, California counties and state agencies have failed to provide accurate counts due to weak data collection requirements.
“Based on what we know and what we can estimate, the number of under-18 weddings in California is all but certainly higher that what the Census Bureau thinks,” explained “Fletcher,” a Southern California private detective who specializes in investigating spouses before marriage. “I can’t name names, but I’ve been hired several times to find information on the fiancée before the wedding, and many times I had to follow them to schools they attended. I don’t mean colleges either. I once even trailed someone in what turned out to be a driver’s ed. car.”
“This is definitely more of a problem than people think. From what I’ve seen, many under-18 weddings have excited parents, but less than enthused kids. But we should also know how many the court rejects too, because we need to see if they are doing their job in weeding out marriages where one or both of the kids about to marry doesn’t want to and is only doing it because of the parents. Most I’ve covered did have an accidental pregnancy causing an early marriage, but some seem almost like the kids are doing it because they have to.”
“We need accurate data at the very least.”
Currently there is no opposition to AB 1286, as evidenced by previous unanimous committee votes and statements on the bill by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
AB 1286 is due for an Assembly vote later this month.