In the upcoming Legislative Session, Delegate Joshua Higginbotham (R-Putnam) will introduce a bill to make 18 the minimum age in West Virginia to get married. Currently, there are numerous ways that minors can legally marry in the state.
Delegate Higginbotham has a personal connection to this issue. His sister, Hallie, was a minor who was married to an adult man a decade ago following an unexpected pregnancy. Like most child marriages, it led to addiction, abuse, & an eventual divorce. While his sister’s situation ended with her safely escaping, many girls and young women are not as lucky.
“My goal with this bill is to protect West Virginia’s children from abusive situations.” Higginbotham said, “Statistics prove that marriages where one or both spouses are underage lead to higher dropout rates from school, higher rates of divorce, and a higher probability that they’ll end up in poverty.”
According to Unchained at Last, a national non-profit dedicated to ending child marriages, forced marriages, and human trafficking, 80% of underage marriages end in failure. West Virginia has no age minimum to marry. Child marriages have been labeled as a “human rights abuse” in other countries like Afghanistan by the U.S. State Department, but West Virginia still allows this to occur.
Higginbotham continued, “This is about defending these girls and young women to live freely from harm & abuse. Ensuring that only consenting adults can get married will prevent many of these situations from occurring.”