The New York State Legislature passed a bill last week prohibiting the marriage of minors under 17 and requiring those aged 17 to 18 to obtain court and parental approval of marriage. The bill is headed to Governor Cuomo’s desk to be signed into law.
The new bill stipulates a number of additional legal steps that must be taken to protect 17-year-old minors that wish to marry: an attorney with domestic violence and forced marriage training must represent the minor, the court must hold and videotape an interview with each minor involved, and a judge must submit written approval of the marriage.
Cuomo has called the child marriage ban a priority and is expected to sign the legislation. Once enacted, the law will be one of the strongest protections against coerced child marriage in the United States.
Under current New York law, minors can marry at ages 14 and 15 with parental and court approval, while 16- and 17-year olds can marry with parental consent. Between 2000 and 2010, it is estimated that there were 250,000 child marriages in the United States. In New York during this same time period, the number is almost 4,000. According to the National Organization for Women (NOW), 85 percent of these marriages were of girls between the ages of 14 and 17 to adult men.
Opponents of the bill and similar marriage restrictions cite a need to protect religious, cultural, and community norms that sometimes include or encourage early marriage. However, NOW reports that girls married before the age of 18 are at a higher risk of domestic violence and abuse, poverty, human trafficking, dropping out of school, and mental and physical health issues. Many girls who marry young are pressured to do so and may not feel comfortable speaking up because of their age.
Both NOW and the U.S. State Department define early and forced marriage as a human rights abuse. Despite this, child marriage legislation varies by state and there is still no universal age of consent. Over half of states have no minimum age requirement for marriage.