Mayor Bob Whalen said the issue was brought to his attention by Rima Nashashibi, founder of Global Hope 365, an organization that has worked for years to end child marriage across the state due to its harmful effects on many women.
Data shows that child marriages can result in a host of human rights abuses. Between 2000 and 2015, more than 200,000 minors were married in the United States, consisting mostly of minor girls married to adult men.
The marriages often result in early pregnancies, intimate partner violence, and very high rates of divorce—at around 70 to 80 percent, according to Laguna Beach City Council documents. Additionally, such a marriage can often have adverse effects on the child’s health, education, and employment opportunities. The marriages are also often used to hide the crime of statutory rape in the event a minor female becomes pregnant.
“I think as you can see set out in the resolution itself, this is quite a problem. The American Medical Association, the State Department, UNICEF, and Human Rights Watch have all urged an end to child marriage under 18 without exceptions,” Whalen said.
The resolution passed 4–1.
Councilwoman Toni Iseman said due to her time as an educator, she felt that the state ban would be too much government overreach despite “the horror stories.”
“I’m having trouble with the no exception [rule], because there are meaningful exceptions that should be made. And it seems very arbitrary. The anecdotal information with the horror stories for young women is true,” Iseman said.
“If you go back on your family tree, I think you’re going to find some 17-year-olds who got married and lived happily ever after. And I find it very intrusive. I would say 16 would be a number [to set as the limit], but we’re not given that choice. But this is a big solution for a narrow problem.”
Councilman George Weiss said the maturity level in the U.S. is considered 18, and that 17-year-olds can wait one more year for marriage.
“We’ve had maybe friends or people from high school that got married at 17 years old, and they had a 50-year marriage. It worked out really well. But you can’t vote until you’re 18. So we consider that in the United States as an age of maturity in a way,” Weiss said. “I don’t see any reason why there would be exceptions.”
Elizabeth Sitton, a survivor of child marriage who was forced to marry a 28-year-old man when she was 16 by her parents and later had to escape, told The Epoch Times the resolution was a big win for survivors.
“I am elated to see the city of Laguna Beach and other California cities taking a stand against child marriage. As a survivor, having been married off against my will at the age of 16, I reflect on the horror I felt at seeing every adult in my path to the altar turn a blind eye. Now I see the dominos falling on their way to Sacramento where we will once again appeal to the Governor to end child marriage in our state,” she said.
“My deepest appreciation for the support that is being shown in all of these efforts and for Global Hope 365 who has been driving this mission.”
Laguna Beach was the 10th city in Orange County within the past year to pass a resolution to end child marriage. Other cities include Irvine, Tustin, Costa Mesa, and others.