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Roscommon group aids in the fight to end child marriage 

By Denise Sylvester

ROSCOMMON- Four years of education, meetings, building coalitions, holding events, listening to survivors, and legislative advocacy.  The result?  Changing laws from the late 1800s.  No more child brides in Michigan. These efforts were led by members of the Zonta Club of Roscommon County Area. 

Between 2000-2021, over 5,400 children under 18 were married in Michigan according to a study from Unchained at Last. 

Michigan’s former law had no minimum age to marry.  Michigan’s laws did have caveats that a judge could approve a marriage if under 16 or only 1 parent permission was needed under 18.  However, age verification was previously not required, and minors’ marriage records could be sealed. Parental consent could easily be parental coercion. 

The Zonta of Roscommon Club led advocacy efforts for approximately 550 members in the Zonta clubs in Michigan encouraging their members to educate others about the dangers of child marriage, send post cards, call their representatives, and send emails to advocate for the law changes.  They along with Zonta International District 15 Clubs in Michigan worked with Unchained at Last, after the Michigan Coalition to End Child Marriage was formed. 

After several years of advocating for the law changes, in 2022, Senator Roger Victory (R-31), held a hearing for the Senate Judiciary Committee on the pending legislation. The legislation was unanimously passed out of committee, however, the legislative session ended before the full Senate could vote. 

On September 26, 2023, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the last of the 10-bill package at a signing ceremony attended by members of the Zonta of Roscommon Club – Cherie Johnson, Governor of Zonta District 15 and Denise Sylvester, Advocacy Chair for Zonta District 15.  

After signing House Bill 4302, Governor Whitmer stated, “I am committed to keeping Michiganders—especially young women—safe and healthy, and today’s bipartisan bill fully implements Michigan’s ban on child marriage.” 

Zonta International is a co-ed organization with clubs in 63 countries, “Zonta International envisions a world in which women’s rights are recognized as human rights and every woman can achieve her full potential. In such a world, women have access to all resources and are represented in decision making positions on an equal basis with men. In such a world, no woman lives in fear of violence.” The Zonta Club of the Roscommon County Area meets the first Monday of the month and all are welcome to join. For more information, email roscozonta@yahoo.com


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