WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Backlash is building against a group that wants to bring a retreat to the Wichita area that advocates the marriages of children as young as 16.

The group calls itself Let Them Marry and had planned to rent Camp Hiawatha for a weekend in November to host an event for parents and children who are “committed to young, fruitful marriage.”

The camp, which is run by the Salvation Army, has since denied the group’s request to hold the event at its venue.

Let Them Marry says it focuses on scripture and gives historical reasons for getting married early and having children.  But, some of the references on their website, and their plan for an event in Wichita, which is now on hold, is concerning for some.

“We really encourage young men and women to get married before the age of 20,” said Joshua Ohlman and his father, Vaughn.  They call it a Biblical understanding of the path to young marriage.

The group’s plan was to bring a retreat to Wichita to help families “overcome the barriers which have kept their children unmarried.”  They argue their message is often misunderstood.

“The two biggest accusations have been we are in favor of child marriage or pedophilia, and the other one is they accused us of being in favor of forced marriage, both of which in contrary to what we teach,” said Ohlman.

The group’s website offers some guidelines, such as,

  • “The youth ready for marriage is ready to bear children.”
  • “The youth has breasts… which signal her readiness for marriage.”
  • “One who is ready for sexual intercourse sexually and emotionally.”

“If I had to put an age on it, it would probably be 16, I don’t want to put an age on it because it’s not really my say,”Ohlman said.

But, a Wichita child psychologist disagrees.

“The changes your likely to make between 16 and 17, 17 and 18, those are huge,” said Molly Allen.

Allen argues children under 18 are not emotionally capable of handling the commitment to marriage.

“The part of the brain that is responsible for planning and really organizing, that part doesn’t come completely online until your almost out of college or out of college,” Allen said.

But, Ohlman points to the historical reference on their website, citing very young marriages in different cultures.

“Hey, some people thought 12 and 13 was okay, and you think 25 is still too young, why don’t you step back from your own culture and think about this from outside of your culture,” Ohlman said.

The Let Them Marry website also discusses the importance of betrothal, and says it should be the child that actively requests the parent help them find a spouse.

As for the group’s plans for a retreat in Wichita, they told us they’re considering their options.