Many find that child marriage is a normal occurrence around the world. However, in the United States, most consider such young marriages a cultural taboo.
Child advocates are now trying to make that taboo illegal in New York, which is one of three states allowing this law. They want to overturn a law that allows children as young as 14 to get married with parental and judicial consent. Advocates say this law can trap children into cycles of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin introduced the advocated legislation on Feb. 14. The new bill would raise the minimum marriage age to 17 and requires court approval. Accordingly, Paul explained that the older law is a loophole that simply allows adults to legally sexually abuse children without facing statutory rape charges.
“I can’t even begin to imagine the physical, psychological and emotional traumas these children have suffered,” she said. “We must safeguard the health, safety and welfare of our children, who are the future of our society.”
Alaska and North Carolina also permit 14-year-olds to marry with parental and judicial consent. Additionally, 27 more states do not have a legal minimum age for marriage. This allows children of all ages can marry with court approval.
Between 2000 and 2010, health department records indicate that officials allowed nearly 4,000 minors to marry in New York. The majority of those marriages — 84 percent — included minor girls marrying adult men.
Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, said there are numerous motivations for child marriages. These include religion, economic status and tradition. Regardless of this tradition, Reiss said the adults often force marriages and they have greatly negative impacts on children’s livelihoods.
“The impacts of child marriage on a girl’s life are devastating and long-lasting,” Reiss said. “Undermining her health, education and economic opportunities and increasing her risk of experiencing violence.”
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