A bill zeroing in on marriages involving any California resident under the age of 18 is sparking debate at the state level. But before the bill made its way to Sacramento, the conversation started with a Peninsula teenager.
Los Altos-resident Aliesa Bahri, 17, first approached Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, about the issue after hearing about a coerced marriage between an adult and minor.
She began to do research on child marriage laws and found under California law, the marriage was legal with a signature from a guardian.
"Multiple studies have shown that girls who marry early are more likely to stop their education, suffer economically, and become victims of domestic violence," Bahri said."We have a responsibility here and now to end early childhood marriage given that we know how detrimental it is for our children and for our communities."
The teen said she previously only thought of child marriages as a practice found in developing countries.
"This experience has made me realize that we have a lot of work to do right here in California," Bahri said.
In California, the Pew Research Center estimated the rate of marriages involving teenagers 15- to 17-years-old was around 5.5 for every 1,000 marriages.
In response, Hill introduced a bill that would revise the current law so the age of legal marriage matched the age of consent, which garnished its share of critics including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Critics of the bill argued that the bill intrudes on the fundamental right of marriage, leading to the removal of the ban as well as mandated reporting requirements of marriages involving minors.
The revised bill now requires a judge and Family Court Services to interview both parties in the marriage as well as a guardian to search for any suspicion of coercion or child abuse.
"While we respect all cultures and faiths, we cannot support practices that rob youth of their childhood," Hill said.
This story has been edited with revisions made to Senate Bill 94.