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Law banning child marriages in Washington state now in effect

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(The Center Square) – Washington is now the 11th state in the country to ban child marriages via a new law that went into effect on June 6 that makes it illegal for anyone under 18 to get married.

House Bill 1455, passed by the Legislature this session and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, took effect on June 6.

Prior to the new law, Washington was one of five states with no age requirement to marry. In those other states, children of any age can be legally married with permission from a judge, and 17-year-olds only need parental permission.

Survivors of forced child marriage gave passionate testimony during debate on the bill in Olympia during this year’s legislative session.

Kate Yang from Kirkland told lawmakers she was trafficked by her own family for $6,000.

“I became the 12-year-old bride and I was raped on my wedding night,” she said. “Child marriage does exist in America.”

Survivor Sara Tasneem told lawmakers she was just 15 years old when she went to stay with her father one summer, who then forced her to marry a 28-year-old man.

“My dad introduced me to a man one morning, and I was told I would marry him that night,” Tasneem explained. “My mom didn’t know this was taking place, and after a spiritual wedding ceremony, my dad handed me over to my abuser and left me in his care.”

She added, “I was taken out of the country, raped and impregnated.”

Tasneem told lawmakers her abuser brought her back into the country six months later.

“That’s when we were legally married, and I was six months pregnant,” said Tasneem. “My perpetrators used that marriage certificate to not be charged with any of the crimes they were committing against me.”

“It took me seven long years to finally escape my abuser and three more years to finalize my divorce.”

Fraidy Reiss with Unchained at Last, a group advocating to end all child marriage, testified in support of the bill.

“In many cases, these are get-out-of-jail free cards for a child rapist,” she said.

“Seventy to 80% of these child marriages end in divorce and these young people end up homeless,” Reiss noted. “It’s also an incentive for a parent to marry off a child so they can get out of a child support obligation. Magically, once you marry off a child they are emancipated.”

An Unchained at Last study found that from 2000 to 2021, more than 5,000 minors were married in Washington. The same study showed the vast majority of recent child marriages – 83% – in Washington are those between adult men and underage girls.