Washington Bans Child Marriage, Sets Minimum Age at 18
The state Senate has voted to end child marriage in Washington. A bill that passed unanimously in the House earlier this session was approved in the Senate on a vote of 48-1 to establish a minimum age of 18 for marriage in Washington. Similar efforts establishing the minimum have stalled in previous session in Olympia.
Prior to the bills passage, you might think the minimum age for marriage in Washington state was 18. You would be wrong, because a minor can marry at 17 with a parent's consent, and even younger children can marry if a judge signs off. Washington has been among five states with no established minimum age for legal marriage.
An advocacy group Unchained At Last working to end child marriage organized a protest in Olympia this legislative session to call attention to their concerns about Washington's lack of child marriage law minimum requirements.
Unchained At Last claims more than 5,000 minors have married in Washington state since 2000
Pew Research data from 2016 shows the rate of marriage for kids aged 15 -17 years of age in Washington was 4.3 per 1,000, just below the national average.
Two minors marrying each other may have been more common in the past but the issue getting the attention of lawmakers and a national child advocacy group is the practice of adults marrying children.
Unchained At Last argues for a minimum age standard of 18 for marriage. The organization says child marriage, or marriage before age 18, was legal in all 50 U.S. states as recently as 2017 and is still legal in 40 states. It claims research has revealed that nearly 300,000 children as young as 10 were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018 – mostly girls wed to adult men.
The group says someone under age 18 is not a legal adult with limited rights. As children without the rights of an adult, they could be forced into or to stay in an arranged marriage. As minors, they need help from an advocate, to enter a domestic violence shelter or retain an attorney to end a marriage. They may not be allowed to begin legal proceedings, seek protective orders or even file for protective orders because of their minor status, according to Unchained At Last
The Seattle Times reports Washington 18-year-olds have access to support systems that may be inaccessible to minors. Domestic violence shelters could turn away minors.
The group is campaigning around the country on the negative impacts to the health, education and economic opportunities for child brides who were married before age 18.
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Gallery Credit: Kat Mykals