In sobering statistics, some 4,500 children under the age 18 got married in Virginia between 2004 through 2013, says records of the Commonwealth’s Department of Health.
More than 200 of those were 15 or younger.
Ninety percent of the 4,500 underagers were girls and too many of them married men decades older than them.
On this past Friday, the legal loopholes that let children, mostly young women who were pregnant, marry if they are “with child” and/or have permission of their parents.
No more. New laws passed by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year ends “forced marriages” and takes both pregnancy and the permission of parents out of the equation.
The new law sets the minimum age to marry at 18. If a child is “emancipated” by court order, he or she can marry at 16 but getting pregnant underage or permission from a parent no longer allows those under 18 to tie the knot.
State Sen. Jill Holtzman (R-Fauquier) and De. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) sponsored the identical bills in the Senate and House that gained overwhelming, and bi-partisan approval)
Vogel told The Washington Post that constituents in the affluent part of her Northern Virginia district after a man in his 50s was discovered having sex with a high school student under 18. Child protective services closed in on the sexual abuser but the man talked her parents into giving permission for him to marry the girl, which stopped any and all prosecution under the old law.
“Now they’re married, and there’s no crime,” said Vogel. “She dropped out of high school. Her life is ruined.”
Turned out the man used the same tactic before after having sex with another high school girl. That “parent approved” marriage ended in divorce.
Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for policy and strategy at Tahirih Justice Center in Fall Church, says that under 18 year old children who marry are 50 percent less likely to graduate from high school and are four times less likely to go to college.
Such kids also are more likely to have children sooner and more quickly than adults who marry and start families, she adds.