West Virginia Defeats Bill to Ban Child Marriage

March 9, 2023

A bill to ban child marriage in West Virginia was defeated Wednesday in the state Senate by one vote.

The Republican-majority state Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the bill on a 9-8 vote, a week after it passed the House of Delegates. 

Child marriage—when one or both parties are below the age of 18—is currently legal in all but seven states. Only Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have set the minimum age at 18 without exception.

According to the nonprofit organization Unchained At Last, nearly 300,000 children under 18 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018. And according to the West Virginia bill’s sponsor Del. Kayla Young (D), since the year 2000 more than 3,600 marriages in that state involved one or more children.

The vote to defeat the child marriage ban in West Virginia came on the same day that former First Lady Michelle Obama, along with philanthropist Melinda French Gates and human rights attorney Amal Clooney, penned an op-ed for Time magazine advocating for ways to end the practice. 

According to the trio’s op-ed, 2 million girls in the world annually are in danger of being forced into marriage due to a “web of economic, educational, and cultural systems” that takes away their choices and opportunities. They add that child marriage is one of the biggest threats to girls’ education.

“But when girls go to school, we are all better off: poverty goes down, economies grow, and babies are born healthier,” the op-ed goes on to say. “The ripple effects extend throughout countries and across the globe.”

Currently, kids as young as 16 can marry in West Virginia with parental consent. Anyone younger than that must also get a judge’s waiver. Some of the bill’s opponents argued that teenage marriages are a part of life in West Virginia.

The Pew Research Center reports that West Virginia has the highest rate of child marriage in the U.S. In 2014, the state’s five-year average was 7.1 marriages for every 1,000 kids aged 15-17, according to Pew.

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