“SALT LAKE CITY — (KUTV) - Allison Cooper is a high school senior, with a dream of becoming a police officer; but two years ago, she ran from her polygamous family and the only way of life she had ever known. At 16, she feared an arranged marriage. “I didn’t want to get married in the group, and I knew that was coming,” she said. “I knew that I was next.” On the last night of the Legislature, House Bill 343 passed the Senate after earlier clearing the House. Allison said she had been taken to marriage preparation classes from the time she was 11 years old. Not a single legislator voted against the measure.” (Mullahy, 2018)
The amendments that passed in Utah's 2018 Legislation through House Bill 343 empowers youth to participate in their placement option. The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) is now required to consider placement options not only by the parents, but also the child, if the child is of mature age. The child is allowed to submit one friend or family placement choice for DCFS to review as an emergency placement option. (H.B. 343). However, DCFS is still required to follow their home placement protocols, so this is not a loop hole for teenagers to run off with their over-aged boyfriend/girlfriend. A shelter hearing is still required and the courts are still involved. Again, this just allows those youth who want to leave their abusive families, whether or not polygamy is involved, to have an input in their placement option. This can be a game changer for youth who previously aged out of the foster care system when there is family or a friend's family willing to provide a supportive home for the child.
These youth are further extended more protection through the additions to the legal definition of sexual abuse. It is now also considered sexual abuse to subject "a child to participate in or threatening to subject a child to participate in a sexual relationship, regardless of whether that sexual relationship is part of a legal or cultural marriage" (H.B. 343).
This is a great addition to youth all over the state of Utah, as marriage laws still allow parents to consent their young teens into legal marriages (Utah Courts, 2018). The line that addresses cultural marriages empowers those youth who may not be legally married, but participated in a marriage of sorts through whatever religion or culture they belong to. This does not single out youth from polygamy, but it does give those specific youth another lifeline. This also holds those religious groups accountable to ensure that they are not coercing, pressuring, or even threatening their youth into marriages because now children are protected under the child sexual abuse laws. Of course, the burden is still on the child to come forward and reach out for help, but this is definitely a step in the right direction to protect children from forced marriages.
Mullahy, B. (2018). New Utah bill aims to stop arranged marriages of underage girls. KUTV.com Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved from http://kutv.com/news/local/new-utah-bill-aims-to-stop-arranged-marriages-of-underage-girls