LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — A group of women met at the Capitol steps on Thursday to protest against existing Michigan child marriage laws.
Members of Unchained at Last arrived dressed in bridal gowns, complete with their arms’ chained together and tape covering their mouths to plead with lawmakers to end child marriage in Michigan.
The organization is a national, survivor-led non-profit that wants to end forced and child marriages across the U.S.
Chants could be heard on the Capitol lawn, commending State Sen. Sarah Anthony and State Rep. Kara Hope for their support for the organization and sponsoring the bills that were reintroduced to Michigan’s Legislature.
This is the fourth time the bills have been introduced to the state Legislature since 2018.
“We have to make sure that our children are safe,” said State Rep. Helena Scott. “We have to make sure that this archaic, horrifying practice is eliminated totally.”
The state currently has no minimum marriage age. But, if passed, legislation would make the minimum marriage age 18.
“She’s nearly 18, nearly you say,” said Becca Powell, the advocacy and outreach director for Unchained at Last. “She’s old enough to be handed over, betrayed by her own father or mother.”
If a 16-year-old in Michigan wanted to get married, they could, as long as they have the written consent of a parent or legal guardian.
Survivors of forced or child marriages shared their hardships, hoping to encourage lawmakers get those bills signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
“From the day I was married, I was abused sexually, emotionally and spiritually,” recounted, survivor Arlene Nyhof. “I ended up in the hospital after two weeks of marriage.”
Nyhof said that she attempted to leave her marriage on multiple occasions, but the lack of resources left her with nowhere to go.
“Because of my age, I could not retain a lawyer or get a hotel room,” she continued. “He kept me from my family in order to keep me from any support.”
Unable to escape her husband, Nyhof could not protect her daughter Nina from the same fate.
“When I was just 10 or 11 years old, my father started grooming me and telling me that I would marry young and that he would pick my spouse,” said Nina Van Harn.
At age 19, Van Harn’s father forced her to get married. Like her mother Arlene, Nina also endured abuse.
It wasn’t until Van Harn’s daughter came to her after lunch one day that Van Harn knew she had to break the cycle.
“[She] said ‘Guess what Mommy? Papa and Daddy say we don’t have to date because they will pick our spouses for us just like they did for you and Nana.'”
State data reported that between 2000 and 2021, more than 5,400 minors were married in Michigan, with more than 90% of those minors being girls.
Bill sponsors Anthony and Hope said they believe they have a strong chance of getting the bill package signed into law.