The US state of Virginia is among those taking steps to outlaw child marriage, with progress in Africa too

Virginia has become the latest US state to rule against child marriage, helping to raise the global average of the legal age for marriage following several fake public photoshoots portraying minors wedding older men.

In Virginia alone, an estimated 4,500 marriages involving children under the age of 18 were recorded between 2004-2013. According to Virginian senator Jill Holtzman Vogel, these statistics on the prevalence of child marriage took many Americans by surprise.

“The fact that you can marry a child is, to me, unconscionable where we are in today’s society,” Vogel told the Guardian.

Recently, videos and staged social experiments in large cities, such as one in Times Square, New York, had been uploaded to social media, shedding further light on the practice.

Virginia, having passed a bill to protect minors in July, has joined what the World Policy Analysis Center (WPAC) estimates as 88 per cent of the world to have set the legal minimum age of marriage at 18. The global average legal age is now 16 for girls and 17 for boys.

The WPAC cites the Virginian bill as a significant step forward for child rights, suggesting the country’s marriage laws were, in places, barely more lenient than those in Saudi Arabia.

In the last two years, several other national governments have aligned more closely with development guidelines and human rights laws. Many of the problems surrounding child marriage have been highlighted by the Girls Not Brides campaign. This global partnership of more than 500 organisations is committed to ending child marriage. The organisation says there are still 93 countries in which girls are legally permitted to marry under the age of 18 with parental consent.

Tanzania and Zambia have also recently banned child marriage, introducing tough penalties for those who breach the rulings. According to the Girls Not Brides’ Parliamentary Campaign to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage report, there has been a chain reaction in neighbouring countries to eliminate inequality between the minimum marriage ages for boys and for girls. This domino effect is helping place more countries in line with recommended guidelines.

Main image: Christian Minelli/NurPhoto