West Virginia bans marriage of children 15 or younger

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia will no longer allow children under 16 to marry, after the governor signed a compromise bill into law on Wednesday.

The law signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice continues to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with restrictions. Under the new law, these minors must obtain parental consent and cannot marry anyone more than four years their senior. Existing legal marriages and those entered into in other states are not affected.

Previously, anyone under the age of 16 could marry with a waiver from the judge.

Similar bills to ban child marriage have been proposed in recent years, but have not been successful.

Some Democrats, including the bill’s sponsor, Del. Kayla Young of Kanawha County, had hoped to completely eliminate child marriage. Some Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature have explained how they or their parents married before adulthood and argued that state recognition of relationships helps keep families together.

Young said she had to compromise with her Republican colleagues to ensure a minimum age for marriage and celebrated the aspect of the bill that banned wide age gaps.

Seven states have set the minimum age of marriage at 18, all since 2018, according to advocacy group Unchained at Last, which has lobbied for legislation in various states to end child marriage. The group calls this practice a violation of human rights.

Proponents of such legislation say it reduces domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies and improves teenage life.

West Virginia had the highest rate of child marriage among states, according to the Pew Research Center. There were about seven marriages per 1,000 children ages 15 to 17 in West Virginia in data collected from 2010 to 2014, compared to about 4.6 marriages per 1,000 for the same age group nationally. . More recent figures were not available.


This story has been updated to correct the numbers for teenage marriages in West Virginia.


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