Virginia will no longer allow 12- and 13-year-old girls to get married after scrapping a law that had been exploited by child sex abusers to get away with their crimes by marrying their victims, the Independent is reporting.
In Virginia, over 4,500 girls under the age of 18 got married between 2004 and 2013; 200 of them were 15 or under. Last week, Virginia lawmakers introduced new legislation setting the minimum age at 18, or 16 if the child obtains an order from the court. Before the new legislation, it was legal for girls as young as 12 or 13 to get married if they got pregnant or got permission from their parents.
The changes were brought about after a lengthy fight by activists and politicians who argued that the laws encouraged human trafficking and rape. The bill was passed by Democrat Jennifer McClellan and Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel. Bills of a similar nature have been introduced in New York, Maryland, California, and New Jersey.
The Tahirih Justice Centre was one of the groups at the forefront that fought for the change in the law. The advocacy group argued that the initial law was a “fast-track to child marriages” and gave abusers the opportunity to get away with their crimes because they simply got married to their victims and child welfare officials could not touch them.
During the clamor for a change in the law, Jeanne Smoot, Tahirih’s senior counsel for policy and strategy, had said that “we hope that legislators will see the efforts in Virginia as a wake-up call about how their laws can facilitate forced marriages of children.”
Republican Vogel had taken up the issue when she heard that a 50-year-old man who was having sex with a high school student had married the girl when he learned that child protective services were closing in. Reports say it was not the first time he had used the tactic; he had married another younger girl to fend off authorities and divorced her when the coast became clear. Vogel summed up the helplessness of the situation by saying that “now they’re married and there’s no crime.”
Smoot said once children got married, they were 50 percent less likely to go through with high school and four times less likely to make it to college. She pointed out that most of the young girls started giving birth to children almost immediately and had no idea about child-spacing.
McClellan noted that in the 1900s, her grandmother got married in Mississippi at age 14. She said it was more socially acceptable during those times because there was hardly any evidence to the contrary that revealed the risks involved. According to her, it was crucial that new legislation is used to close the “gaping loophole” in marriage laws by developing child-safety policies. McClellan took a swipe at the former marriage laws, saying that “sex with a child is illegal, but if you were under 16 and pregnant, rather than punishing your assailant, you were allowed to marry them.”
In the same vein, the World Policy Center, an advocacy group that investigates government policies, has revealed that 88 percent of countries worldwide have a minimum cap for marriage at 18 years old. The group added that “women married before the age of 18 were three times more likely to be beaten by their spouse than women married at age 21 or older.” In the U.S., marriage laws vary from state to state; presently there are six states where girls under the age of 16 can get married, but parental consent is a requirement.
YouTube celebrity Coby Persin arranged a social experiment in New York’s Times Square that had a 65-year-old man posing for photographs with his 12-year-old bride. It drew plenty of outrage, with people threatening to turn him over to the police.
Persin organized the experiment to draw attention to the sad fact that 33,000 girls worldwide are forced to get married every single day. He said if New Yorkers had a problem with a child getting married to an older man, then it had no right to be accepted anywhere else in the world.
Do you think Virginia did the right thing by getting rid of its law that allowed 12-year-old girls to get married?
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