In a bid to stop child sexual abuse and statutory rape against minors, the US state of Virginia has introduced a new law banning anyone under the age of 18 from getting married.
There is one exception to the new law, however. The minimum age of marriage falls to 16-years-old if the individual is legally emancipated.
The new law, which came into effect last Friday, updates previous child marriage laws that allowed children as young as 12 to get married if they received parental consent.
“Virginia’s marriage law is really out of whack,” Virginian Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel told the Washington Post when the bill was first presented to the Virginian congress in February.
It may appear surprising that in the 21st century, the concept child marriage is still in effect. But according to the Virginia Department of Health, and announced by the Tahirih Justice Centre, some 4,500 minors were married between 2004 and 2013. Most of these minors were young girls under the age of 15, married to men sometimes decades older.
Child marriages are still commonplace in many developing nations, conservative non-secular governments, and small rural villages where gender stereotypes and female dis-empowerment still prevail. These places include Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, parts of Eastern Europe, and some parts of South America.
Child marriage affects young girls more harshly in these countries than boys. Girls are forced into marriage under the guise of religious orthodoxy and at the expense of their further education.
Last May, the UN announced a new program to help end child marriage by 2030 and protect the rights of young girls around the world.