Gathering support and momentum to enact change is often arduous, and overcoming the status quo can require years of effort.

But, in the case of child marriage, it is mindboggling that progress has been this slow.

In 2019, Ohio raised the minimum marriage age to 18 for both parties, but allows an exemption for 17-year-olds to marry if they have juvenile court consent, go through a 14-day waiting period and the age differential between the two is not more than four years.

Pennsylvania this month became just the third state in the country, joining Delaware and New Jersey, to fully outlaw marriage for people under 18. Prior to the law being signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, it was legal in the commonwealth for a 16 or 17-year old to get married with a parent’s permission. A child younger than that needed the consent of both a parent and judge. Under those exceptions, more than 2,300 children ages 15 to 17 in Pennsylvania have been married since 2014.

In Ohio in 2019, former Gov. John Kasich raised the minimum marriage age to 17, but only after it was discovered that between 2000 and 2015, nearly 4,500 girls age 17 or younger had been married in the state.

The numbers are even more startling nationwide. Approximately 248,000 children, some as young as 12 years old, were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, according to marriage-license data analyzed by Unchained, an advocacy group seeking to end forced and child marriage. Nearly 90 percent of the minors married were girls.

Minimum marriage age varies widely by state, and some states include exceptions so broad that there is in effect no minimum age.

The devastating consequences of child marriage on people’s lives, particularly young girls, are widely known. Girls who are married before 18 are significantly more likely not to graduate high school or college, endure poverty, catch a sexually transmitted disease and die in childbirth.

Simply put, children are not physically or psychologically prepared for marriage. The average age for a first marriage in the United States is 29. Getting married before 18 is dangerous to the future of the minor.

Pennsylvania smartly put itself ahead of the curve by banning child marriage, but it is hard to believe there is any curve at all. Ohio should follow suit by enacting its own total ban, and soon.

— Toledo Blade