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Advocacy: End Child Marriage in Michigan

By Amanda Morello, November 2022


On October 6, 2022, Student Representatives of the UNICEF-USA Student Chapter at the University of Michigan conducted an advocacy swarm to urge Ann Arbor politicians to ban child marriage in their state. Over 25 members called Senator Jeff Irwin (Michigan’s Senate District-18) and Representative Yousef Rahbi (Michigan District-53) urging them to cosponsor Senate Bills 1114 through 1123 and House Bills 4226 through 4229, respectively.


In 2021, our organization re-established its advocacy and education work, consolidating efforts into the Education and Advocacy Committee and adapting community outreach/mobilization in the time of COVID. In 2022, our Board divided the committee into two parts. Our members understood the impact of education and advocacy in advancing UNICEF’s mission, beyond collecting money, in their communities.


Education and Advocacy programming is a central tenet of UNICEF at Michigan. Throughout the school year, our members will be advocating in various capacities with and for UNICEF USA to ban child marriage and ensure the rights of children around the world. Events include, but aren’t limited to, social media campaigns (Instagram: @unicef_um), interviews, World Health Day Initiatives (more!), symposiums, and panels.


This year, Sam Klos ‘23 and Joey Do ‘25 are leading the Education and Advocacy Committees.


What is child marriage?

UNICEF defines child marriage as, “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.” UNICEF and the United Nations declare child marriage a human rights violation. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for the end to child marriage, citing pervasive gender, political, and economic inequalities as instigators.


Child marriage is often forced. It occurs for a variety of reasons - from sexual predation to patriarchial practices, and cultural traditions to coercion. Child marriage increases rates of teen pregnancy, divorce, poverty, and mental health issues.


Child marriage in the United States

Equality Now reports that only Minnesota, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have banned child marriage without exceptions in the United States, leaving 44 states yet to do so. 20 states require a parental and judicial waiver for child marriage and don’t define a minimum age.


From 2000 to 2018, 300,000 minors were wed, 60,000 of which occurred with a “spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime.”


Michigan’s Laws

Michigan is in violation of 1962 The Committee on the Rights of the Child (General Assembly resolution 1763 A (XVII)). As the law stands, there is no minimum age for marriage in Michigan, only the requirement of parental and judicial consent should one party in the union be under 18. And, the Michigan marriage contract minimizes the ability of married youths to hire a lawyer to file for divorce once wed.


Michigan constituents widely believe that Michigan protects its children yet the state’s out-of-date laws leave minors vulnerable to child marriage and sexual predation and serve as formal outs for statutory rape (U.S.C. Section 2243(a) of Sexual Abuse of a Minor). As is widely understood, child marriage has devastating long-term socio-economic and health-related consequences for young girls.


Michigan’s Reality

Since 2000, more than 5,300 children have been married in Michigan - some as young as 14 years old. Around 83% of these cases were young girls married to adult men. Based on these damning numbers, and more, Michigan was ranked 42nd in the nation by Human Rights Watch for the inadequate protection of children and generational prosperity.


Now, when we look at the data, the human-rights-based policy enacted by Michiganders in the past seems to be somewhat effective in diminishing rates. For example, in 2010, 2,110 total minors (under 20) were wed, yet in 2020, 1,006 minors were wed - 75% of which were female. However, this is still an inexcusable reality and more must be done.


Proposed Legislation

The Michigan House Democrats report that the bipartisan legislation will:


“...establish 18 as the minimum age of consent for marriage, prohibit judges from issuing a marriage certificate for individuals under marriageable age, and voids a marriage involving a minor performed after the effective date of the law.”


House Bills 4226 – 4229 proposed by Representatives Sarah Anthony, Kara Hope, Daire Rendon, and Graham Filler are a package deal gaining bipartisan support and traction. This is the third legislative cycle that these bills are in. Since 2021, pushback on this legislation concerns exceptions clauses for military members to marry minors and permitting emancipated minors to be married. Yet, these exceptions would eliminate the breadth of protection the bills intend to purport.


UNICEF and human rights groups seek the passage of the legislation as it stands without exceptions.


Learn More

HB 4226🔗 (2021)HB 4227🔗 (2021)HB 4228🔗 (2021)HB 4229🔗 (2021)


SB 1120 🔗 (2022)SB 1121 🔗(2022)SB 1122 🔗 (2022)SB 1123 🔗(2022)



Michiganders and Michigan Policymakers

In addition to UNICEF-UM Student Representatives advocating for reform, UNICEF USA and Zonta International, a women's advocacy and empowerment organization assert that a marriage where one party is under 18 should be prohibited without exception. Child marriage must be banned in Michigan and throughout the United States.


How You Can Help

  1. Find your Michigan Congressional Leaders

  2. Senator: https://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

  3. Representative: https://www.house.mi.gov/

  4. Research

  5. What are their policy goals? What are their constituents’ primary concerns? What policy(ies) have they supported in the past?

  6. Call!

  7. Hello,

My name is ________ and I am ______. I urge you to support Senate Bills 1114 through 1123 to end child marriage in the state of Michigan and protect the rights of Michiganders. Thank you.

b. Hello,

My name is ________ and I am ______. I urge you to support House Bills 4226 through 4229 to end child marriage in the state of Michigan, protecting the rights of our children and securing their future. Thank you.

4. Email!

  1. Send an email using templates provided by UNICEF, Zonta International, or one your created

  2. https://actionnetwork.org/letters/urge-mi-legislators-to-end-all-child-marriage/

5. Encourage your friends and family to share their opinions, too, by calling, emailing, and/or posting on social media.

  1. If your representative has already supported the legislation you were advocating for, make sure to thank them, too.


What to know more?

Email unicefeboard@umich.edu to learn more about this problem and how you can help.


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