Female rep moves to amend local marriage laws — raising age for girls from 14 to 18
Female Rep. Fialupe Felila Fiaui Lutu is moving to amend local marriage laws, by raising the marrying age for females to 18 from the current 14-years old.
Provisions of local law pertaining to “Requisites of Marriage”, state in part that the male shall be at least 18 years old and the female at least 14 years of age. And if the female is less than 18-years old, she must have the consent of one of her parents or guardian.
Lutu’s bill seeks to raise the female marrying age to at least “18” years of age. And if she is less than 18 years old, “but not younger than 16 years of age,” she must have the consent of one of her parents or her guardian.
The measure was the subject of a House committee hearing yesterday, in which the committee agreed to amend the bill to say that, if the male or female is less than 18 years old, but not younger than 16 years of age, both — male/female — must have the consent of a parent or guardian. This is expected to go through second reading today.
Several residents, contacted by Samoa News in the past several days, were surprised that the current law is 14-years of age for a female to be married — although a parent’s consent is required. “Why would a Samoan parent consent for a 14-year old daughter being married?” was the question raised by one of the individuals reached by Samoa News via phone.
None of those contacted wanted to comment on the record on the current law or proposed amendment. However, the main unanswered question they raised is — why American Samoa set the marriage age for a female at age 14 in the first place, when it is such a young age?
This same question was raised in January of 2012 when a similar bill was introduced in the House. And following witnesses who testified in a committee hearings at the time, the lingering question remains unanswered.
At that time, the bill sought to hike the female’s age from 14 to 17 but following testimony from then Youth and Women’s Affairs director Leiataua Leuga Turner, the measure was amended up to 18 years of age.
Leiataua testified at the time that 14 years is too young for marriage, and at this age, the young person’s brain is not fully developed to make a judgment call when it comes to motherhood, compared to an individual who is over 21 years old.
She also said she has worked with youth and families for over 20 years and she has seen incidents where the new mother was as young as 11 years old. She pointed out that some parents have consented to marriage for their children under the age of 18, but then, two years later the young couple is divorced.
There was also support of the bill at the time from two Health Department officials, who noted that 14-years old is just too young for a girl to be a wife and have a baby.
Although the House approved the measure at the time, after raising the age to 18, it was rejected by the Senate in mid-February 2012, after a committee hearing heard testimony from a church minister who told senators that the current law is sufficient because it would require a parent or guardian's consent for a young girl wanting to marry.
Among the concerns raised at the time by not only faipule, but an advocate for protecting children and others in the community, is about 14-year old girls being forced into a marriage, by a parent or guardian consenting to a marriage, without knowing the consequences and the health impact on the young girl.
According to the American Samoa Statistical Yearbook 2016, which was compiled by the ASG Commerce Department and released last December, the Office of Vital Statistics reported 253 marriage licenses were issued in 2016, a drop from 2015 which reported 264 marriages.
There was no breakdown in the age or gender of those who got married.
The Statistical Yearbook 2016 did report that births to girls “under age 15” dropped to zero in FY2016, a significant decline from 2010 when there were seven.
However, of the total births in the year 2016, 10% of the births were to teenage mothers — ages 15-19, according to information from the LBJ Medical Center, cited in the Yearbook.