Virginia Ends Child Marriage

Virginia becomes first Southern state to abolish child marriage

April 16, 2024

Virginia became the 12th U.S. state and first in the South to end child marriage last week, after Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) signed HB 994 into law. The law completely ends child marriage in the state by establishing a minimum marriage age of 18 without exceptions and removes a legal loophole that previously allowed emancipated minors to marry in Virginia. The law will go into effect on July 1, 2024.

The bill was carried by state Delegate Karen Keys-Gamarra (D) after an initial request from myself—both of us women from Fairfax County. This law will protect children from the abuse and exploitation that can occur under the guise of marriage and the lifelong harm that often results from marrying underage, no matter the circumstances. We hope to see the remaining 38 states follow suit.

Virginia led the effort to end child marriage in 2016 when then-Delegate, now-U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan and state Sen. Jill Vogel carried HB 703/SB 415. The bill attempted to end marriage before 18, but it allowed a minor to be entered into marriage at age 16 if a judge approved and emancipated the minor as part of the process (or they were already emancipated), which did not protect 16- and 17-year-olds.

Some 7,876 minors as young as 12 were entered into marriage in Virginia between 2000 and 2021, according to research from the organization Unchained at Last. At least 65 of those minors were married since the current law went into effect in 2016, and more than 80 percent were married to adult men. Almost all of the marriages since 2000 involved a minor who was not old enough to consent to sex with their spouse, otherwise making this statutory rape.

 

CHILD MARRIAGE IS LEGAL IN MOST US STATES

It is past time to end this human rights abuse!  Laws must be changed state by state.  Join us, act now by messaging your legislators with UNICEFUSA, and then join in your state’s coalition to end child marriage.  Act at: www.stopchildmarriages.org

Act now!

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