KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Preventing girls from being trafficked is one of the reasons a Missouri lawmaker wants to raise the age at which people can legally marry in the state. Human rights advocates applaud her effort, and so does a former teen bride, who now says she wasn`t old enough to make that decision.
While most 16-year-olds were begging their parents for a driver`s license, Rachel Holbrook was asking her mother for a marriage license.
“I was in love, and I was 16,” said Holbrook, who said she graduated high school early and was ready to move on with her life.
Now an author of two books, and a re-married mother of four, Holbrook now knows she wasn`t ready to make the decision to marry as a teen.
“What it came down to was I grew up and I changed a lot, and the person I became was not who he wanted to be with,” said Holbrook of the husband she divorced.
She says religion is what attracted her to the idea of marrying young.
“I was brought up in a very conservative fundamentalist Christian household where marriage was kind of the be all, and end all for a woman,” said Holbrook
However, something sinister is what supporters of Missouri House Bill 270 hope the bill will protect against. Johnson County, Mo., recorder of deeds Jan Jones cited an incident in metro in 2016 where an Idaho father was jailed after authorities say he brought his pregnant 14-year-old daughter to Kansas City, to force her to marry the 24-year-old who raped her.
Jones thinks this bill would have prevented that, considering in part that the girl wouldn’t have been old enough to marry, and that the bill required additional questions to be asked by a judge.
“It doesn’t preclude the younger people from being married within the state, but it would require a court order and, therefore, it would allow someone to be asking additional questions about the situation,” said Jones.
“If they`re 17, 16, or 15 and the parents are giving consent; we`re not really the police. We can`t really ask a lot of questions and maybe deny someone. We can`t deny somebody if we get parental consent,” Jones continued.
Jones is not alone in her support for the bill.
“I think it`s a great move. I think there needs to be a lot more standardization of ages of consent for different things in Missouri, and I think it`s a great place to start,” said Kris Wade, executive director of the Justice Project Kansas City.
Wade says marriage can be a guise for teens to be trafficked, with a bleak future in sight.
“They are not only considered property, but they`re considered married property, and for this individual to break free of a trafficker that way is unbelievably difficult,” said Wade.
Some researchers also fear that teen brides are more vulnerable to poor education, as well as poor mental and physical health.
Not all disagree with teen marriage. At least one Missouri lawmaker was quoted as saying he didn`t want to discourage teen marriage as an option in cases of pregnancy, and wondered if the bill would step on some religious beliefs.
In 2013 “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson caused controversy when a video posted on YouTube surfaced, showing Robertson advocating for men marrying teen aged girls.
“Look, you wait ’til they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16,” Robertson can be heard saying in the video.