Child marriage chart reveals girls can wed at 12 in some parts of the US – as lawmakers battle to raise age to 16


65-year-old man “marries” 12-year-old girl in Times Square social experiment YouTube/Coby Persin

Lawmakers in America are battling to overturn some of the country’s most archaic laws, which stipulate that children as young as 12 can be married.

In the state of Virginia, it is officially still legal for girls as young as 12 or 13 to be brought to a courthouse with evidence of a pregnancy and wed, a practice that has come under increased scrutiny thanks to the Virginia Senator Jill Vogel R-Fauquier.

Legislation she introduced, which is now moving through the Virginia General Assembly, seeks to raise the minimum age for marriage to 16 to bring it in line with other states – and similar moves are under way in Maryland and New York, where 3,853 minors were married between 2000 and 2010, according to State Health Department data published in the New York Times.

In Virginia itself, according to state health statistics, more than 4,500 minors were married between 2000 and 2013, including about 220 who were 15 or younger.

And a separate Statista chart plotting the minimum legal age of marriage for girls worldwide reveals that the US is one of the lowest on record, with several places – including Massachusetts – allowing girls as young as 12 to be wed with the consent of a judge.

It is matched only by Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where age of consent for marriage ranges between nine and 13 years old.

Data source: World Policy Centre, State Department

“It’s rarely the case that the 13-year-old is marrying a 17-year-old,” Ms Vogel told Washington Top News.

”It’s more often the case that it is a child marrying somebody decades older than they are.”

Ms Vogel pointed out that often, young women who go on to be abused in early marriages are not old enough to go to court to get a protection order – and aren’t even old enough to drive.

She said officials should be looking out for what’s in the child’s best interests – not handing out marriage licenses.

“Someone should be asking the question, ‘Well if this 13-year-old is pregnant, isn’t that evidence of statutory rape?’” Ms Vogel said. “Is that not a crime? They are truly victims in every way.”

Child Bride social experiment in New York City

Senate Bill 415, which passed in the Senate last month, has passed in a House sub-committee and in a full-committee and is due to face a vote.

The bill would see those between 16 and 18 having to petition courts for a marriage license – at which point a judge would need to determine whether or not they were mature enough or were being coerced.

The judge could also grant emancipation as part of the petition, giving teens similar rights to adults under the law.

But Ms Vogel said she was surprised at what she found when researching marriage laws in other states, which she said acted as a “veil” to sex abusers to protect themselves from prosecution.

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