A recent survey by The Kansas City Star found that Missouri has one of the most relaxed laws preventing minors from marrying young.
The kids in question are sometimes as young as 12 to 14 years old. If they’re over 15, all they need is the signature of one parent of the minor.
The story profiled one of these young brides, Brittany Koerselman, who at 15 married her 21-year-old boyfriend to help him avoid a prison sentence for statutory rape after she became pregnant.
Missouri’s marriage laws are among the most lenient in the country, making the state an unlikely destination for over 1,000 young brides who are often being pressured into marriage before they’re old enough to vote. When Koerselman got married, she traveled from Iowa to Missouri for the ceremony.
While the number of underage marriages may be dwindling, the long-term effects are not. Child brides, who usually come from impoverished backgrounds, according to The Star, “are more likely endure higher rates of psychiatric disorders, health problems and even physical and sexual abuse.”
They are unable to apply to rent an apartment or buy a car alone at their age, and are thererfore more dependent on family or their husband.
If these child brides want a divorce, some states (like Missouri,) won’t even grant them that before they’re 18. Resources for abused women may not extend to minors.
It’s a dangerous trap for young girls, some of whom may have been pressured into the union by their partners or their families.
Koerselman told The Star that she regrets marrying so young, but does not regret getting pregnant. She has since divorced her now ex-husband and is working toward reconciling with him.
What she does regret, however, is what she considers Iowa’s overly strict statutory rape laws, which she says forced her into marrying at 15, and put pressure on her family.