We often call them our most precious gifts, and our laws reflect how much we value our children. There's nothing we won't do to keep them safe, not only from outside forces looking to harm them - like sexual predators - but also from themselves, such as mandatory education laws.
Sometimes the laws don't work as planned, or the way we thought they would.
No "Sex-Free Zone"
What happens when laws written decades ago meet the digital world, like sexual predator laws targeting direct contact between adults and children, but don't cover email or other internet-based contact? Massachusetts lawmakers thought they had the answer.
A new law made it illegal for any adult with a web site or who communicates though the internet - including emails and text messaging - to post nudity or sexually related material if it's harmful to minors. Violations carried a $10,000 fine, five years in jail, or both.
The law meant to protect children from sexual predators using the web or wireless networks. A federal judge barred the state from enforcing the law, saying it had the potential to punish adults exercising their First Amendment right to view or post pornography, buy or sell adult magazines, or even flirt via text with another adult. Under the former law, these permissible things were illegal because they were "harmful to minors."
Every state defines the age when people may marry. In most cases it keeps minors from marrying before they're old enough to support themselves, as well as to stop abusive marriages between adults and children.
Laws vary in each state, but generally, people under 18 need their parents' consent, a court's approval, and a marriage license before they can get married.
That's how it works in Ohio, but like some other states, there are some exceptions. One is if the minor female is pregnant. Much to her parents' surprise - and anger - a pregnant 17 year old got court permission to marry her 17-year-old boyfriend.
Her parents didn't find out until after the wedding ceremony, and after her mother went to pick her up at high school. The teen convinced the judge her parents would force her to have an abortion if she was forced to stay at home. Her mother denies that.
Lessons to Learn
Incidents like these are learning moments for everyone. Lawmakers need to carefully weigh everything when writing new laws. Good intentions, like protecting our children, aren't always enough to justify interfering with other people's legal rights.
Parents take heed, too. The law does a lot to protect your children, but you're the key. If you don't do so already, consider screening your child's online activities and cell phone usage. Prevent and stop her from doing illegal online activities.
Also, talk to your children about the effects of sexual activities, even if they're taught sexual education at school.
Truly, our children are important. We all should do what we can to make sure they're as safe as possible and make good life decisions.
Questions for Your Attorney
- My child forged my name on a consent document and got married. Are there any legal requirements for ending the marriage?
- Does a court have to tell parents if their minor children try to get a marriage license?
- What should I do if I notice questionable text messages and pictures on my child's cell phone?