Fifteen women from a polygamous community in British Columbia made a rare public appearance Friday, to voice their support for a proposal to raise the age of consent in Canada.
The woman travelled from Bountiful, B.C., to Winnipeg, Manitoba to speak out at a conference on sexual exploitation and child brides.
“It will really help us a lot,” one of the women told a roundtable that included police, teachers and child rights advocates.
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“Come on, children are children. I know as a mother with younger girls I encourage my girls not to get married too young.”
The women wanted their views heard because they knew Debbie Palmer would be attending.
Palmer grew up in Bountiful. At the age of 15 she became the third wife of a man 40 years her senior.
Seventeen years later she left the community, spurred by her childrens’ complaints of abuse at the hands of male elders and her own suspicions that young girls were being sent as child brides to polygamous communities south of the border.
Two decades on, Debbie Palmer is still concerned.
“I am concerned for those children all the time,” she told reporters. “We have no idea what’s happened to them.”
But the Bountiful brides surprised Debbie Palmer with their support for a law banning child marriages.
“I think it’s a very astounding statement on their part,” she told reporters, recalling her experience in the breakaway Mormon sect.
“I’ve got documents from sermons that were preached in 2000 and 2001 that were urging the girls to get married as quickly as possible because they needed to belong to a husband before the end of the world came.”
But according to Marlene Palmer, who is still married to the man Debbie wed at 15, her community supports efforts to raise the age of sexual consent in Canada from 14 to 16.
“I think 15 is way to young to start practising sex and especially to a multimarried man,” she said.
On the request of the B.C. Attorney General, the RCMP investigated allegations of sexual abuse, incest and forcible marriage in the remote B.C. community. No criminal charges have been laid.
Although the legal age for marriage varies from province to province, the age of sexual consent is set federally at 14 nationwide.
Under an amendment tabled by the Liberal government in Ottawa, the age of consent would remain 14, but judges would be able to decide whether individuals as old as 18 were being exploited.
With files from CTV News and The Canadian Press