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Virginia Sets a Minimum Age to Marry

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If you’re 16 or 17 in Virginia, you can marry if you have parental consent -- a girl under 16 can get married if she’s pregnant.

Now, Virginia looks set to change that. A bipartisan effort to address child marriage is now heading to the Governor’s desk. 

A bill that’s passed both chambers of Virginia’s legislature would make 16 the absolute minimum age to marry. It would also make marriages of a 16 or 17-year-old legal only if the child is emancipated by a judge. 

Delegate Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat from Richmond, says courts would have to carefully look at each situation.

“There are some findings they’d have to make, to make sure this is not against your will, there’s no history of abuse between the parties, it’s in the child’s best interest,” said McClellan.

The bill also changes the law so teens who are married can access the adult rights of marriage -- like getting a protective order or filing for divorce.

“You know, we make sex with a child under 16 a crime, and so it aligns our marriage laws so that so you don’t have situations where young girls are really being married off into an abusive relationship,” said McClellan.

According to the Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit legal advocacy group, between 2004 and 2013 more than 4,500 children were married in Virginia. In more than 90-percent of those marriages the minor was a girl -- and nearly one third of them married a man older than 21. 

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