News 4 Investigates: Alarming number of children getting married - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Alarming number of children getting married in Missouri

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In Missouri it is legal for teens as young as 15 to get married if their parents give permission. Credit: KMOV In Missouri it is legal for teens as young as 15 to get married if their parents give permission. Credit: KMOV

(KMOV.com) – News 4 Investigates is revealing an alarming number of children getting married in Missouri every single year.

Advocates say they worry Missouri’s become a safe haven for child abusers, all because the laws are so outdated.

News 4 Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager began digging into the issue of children getting married in Missouri after hearing about a case that’s making some people outraged.

Aaron Seaton, a 25-year-old man from Idaho smiled in court.

But a judge called his crime heinous. Seaton pleaded guilty to felony rape, after impregnating a teenage girl. Then, the girl's father Keith Strawn brought the 15-year-old all the way from Idaho to Kansas City to marry Seaton, because marrying a teen is legal in Missouri.

“This is legal? It's shocking,” said Amanda Colegrove with Coalition Against Trafficking and Exploitation.

She says that case is just one chilling example of a bigger trend in Missouri.

Over the years, there have been other examples, such as a man who came from Arizona to marry the 15-year-old he had been abusing.

“That we would allow children to get married, it's really shocking,” said Colegrove.

In most states, you have to be 18 to tie the knot.

But under the law in the Show Me State, teens 17, 16 and even 15-years-old can wed with just one parent's consent.

Since 2012, close to 800 16 and 17-year-olds have gotten married. 100 15-year-olds have wed.

According to biologists, the prefrontal cortex has not really developed, so teens are not really capable of making logical decisions.

News 4 obtained several of the marriage licenses:

The licenses show 15-year-old brides marrying grooms twice their age. Often, they come from other states. The laws from the states they are coming from would not allow such unions.

“We do what the law tells us to do, we have to do it,” said Georgie Simmons, the Chief Deputy Recorder of Deeds in St Louis City.

Simmons says she usually facilitates happy moments for couples. But when a child comes in, her heart drops.

“I wouldn't let my child do it. I don't care what the circumstances is, I don't think a 15-year-old should be married, you're still a child,” said Simmons.

Simmons says she worries the kids are being coerced.

“I do ask questions, I feel that if they are being pressured into it, is it something you want to do, are you being pressured?” said Simmons.

Their hands, though, Simmons says are tied by a law written a hundred years ago.

“As long as they meet all the qualifications, we have to issue them a marriage license,” said Simmons.

She and advocates say it is disturbing that parents allow it or that other adults do not step in.

In the Idaho case, instead of standing up for the victim, the parents threatened a news crew trying to cover the court proceedings.

But if parents will not protect their children, Colegrove says Missouri’s marriage laws should.

“At this point, do you think the law in Missouri is failing kids?” asked Trager. “With this law, I think so. I think they're doing a disservice to children,” said Colegrove.

Trager reached out to lawmakers and heard back from State Representative Sue Meredith.

Meredith says she is very concerned. She says she is planning to bring the issue up at a meeting in August and she says she will be writing legislation to get the law changed.  

Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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