Apr 12, 2024 - News

Virginia becomes first state in the South to ban child marriage

Illustration of a gavel laying over a page from a yearbook where a veil and bowtie have been drawn over two teens.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Virginia has become the first state in the South to ban child marriage.

The big picture: Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill this week that closes a loophole in state law allowing minors to marry if they're emancipated.

  • Only 11 other states in the U.S. have made it illegal for children to marry without exceptions, according to Unchained at Last, an advocacy group that helps girls get out of forced marriages.
  • Six of those laws, including Virginia's, passed in the past two years.
  • In four states — California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Mississippi — there is no minimum age.

By the numbers: Nearly 8,000 Virginians under the age of 18 got married between 2000 and 2021, according to marriage certificate data compiled by Unchained.

  • The youngest was 12, and more than 80% were girls.
  • Nationwide, between 2000 and 2018, the figures were nearly 300,000 minors.

Flashback: In 2016, Virginia raised the minimum age for marriage to 16, if the minor is emancipated.

  • Before then, children under the age of 16 could marry with parental consent or because of pregnancy.

Between the lines: A minor being allowed to marry doesn't necessarily mean they can file for divorce. In some states, you have to be 18 or have an adult file on your behalf.


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