Ohio's marriage laws allowing underage teens to marry are too liberal and create potential for exploiting young girls, says an advocate for an organization that has called for ending child marriage, per the AP. Ohio requires teen girls to be at least 16 and males to be at least 18 before they can legally marry, but it allows for younger pregnant girls to wed with the permission of parents and juvenile courts, the Dayton Daily News has reported. The newspaper found more than 4,400 girls age 17 or younger were married in Ohio between 2000 and 2015, including 59 who were 15 or younger. Three were just 14. The executive director of a national nonprofit advocating for ending child marriage says Ohio's law creates situations comparable to Yemen, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. "Shame on Ohio for having 16th-century laws still on the book," says Fraidy Reiss of Unchained at Last.
People younger than 18 are allowed to marry in all 50 states, though some states, including New York and Texas, have recently adopted laws increasing the minimum age. While the age of consent in Ohio is 16, an adult could be charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sex with someone between the ages of 13 and 15; they would face rape charges for sex with anyone younger. The Daily News story highlighted a case of a pregnant Ohio 14-year-old who married a 48-year-old man in 2002. They remain married and have three kids. Tessi Siders, now 29, says in a text message interview she doesn't regret having married at such a young age but likely wouldn't allow her kids to do so. And she said Ohio should change its law to make the minimum age for marriage 18. "Yes, some get pregnant before 18, but if the father truly loves her, he [waits] the years to marry her," she wrote.