New York State Passes Anti-Child Marriage Law

The state of New York is one step closer to ending child marriage. On the 20th of June 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that aims to “dramatically reduce the circumstances under which children can marry” as reported by the Human Rights Watch.

The new legislation prevents any marriage or civil union under the age of 17 and will only allow 17-year-olds to marry with a judge’s permission. The previous laws set the minimum age for marriage in New York at 18, but 16 and 17-year-old children were permitted to marry with parental approval, and 14 and 15-year-old children could marry with permission from a judge and their parents.

Figures, in regards to child marriage, as reported by the Human Rights Watch states the following:

  • Globally – one out of every four girls marries before age 18
  • 15 million girls under 18 marry each year – that translates to one every two seconds
  • Between 2001 to 2010, 3,850 children under the age of 18 married in New York State.
  • The overwhelming majority of married children are girls, most of whom marry spouses who are older than they are—in some cases much older.
  • Girls or young women in the US who married before age 19 are 50% more likely to drop out of high school than their unmarried counterparts
  • Girls who marry as early teens, before age 16, in the US are 31% more likely to end up in poverty later in life.

“Child marriage is a dirty secret in the US, and other states should follow New York’s example by enacting laws to help end this harmful practice,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “US state laws permitting child marriage are out of step with the rest of the world since even countries with high rates of child marriage are recognizing the harm it causes and taking steps to prevent these marriages.”

Support to end child marriage has been rapidly growing across the United Sates as in 27 US states, there is currently no limit to how young a child can marry if a judge authorizes the marriage. This past Tuesday, activists organized by Unchained At Last gathered outside Newark Penn Station, New Jersey as a show of support for the Assembly Bill 3091, which seeks to prevent bar anyone under the age of 18 from marrying or entering into a civil union in New Jersey. Human Rights Watch also reports that legislation curtailing child marriage in Virginia came into effect in June 2016, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed an anti-child marriage bill last week, and that similar legislation has been introduced in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

The bill passed in New York is a much-needed step towards ending child marriage and other states should be encouraged to follow.

Annemarie Lewis