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New York bans child marriage, still alarming practice

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (R) on Thursday signed a law raising the state’s age of consent to marriage to 18, effectively banning child marriage.

“Nalia’s Law” is named after a survivor who was forced into marriage at the age of 13. The measure, which will come into force on August 21, is based on a 2017 law that raised the minimum age of consent from 14 to 17.

The law makes New York the sixth of those states to completely ban marriage before the age of 18, regardless of parental or judicial consent, according to Unchained at Last, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes marriage. children and lobbied for Nalia’s law.

Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island have similarly stringent standards. The remaining 44 states, however, share a patchwork of laws allowing marriage at a younger age (nine have no minimum age), depending on factors such as parental and judicial approval, pregnancy status, and – in one case – sex.

With parental consent, Mississippi will marry girls at age 15 while boys must be at least 17 years old. Both minimums can be overruled by a judge, however, effectively lowering the minimum age to zero.

“Whatever their level of maturity, minors do not have sufficient legal rights and the autonomy they need to protect them if they enter into a marriage contract before they become adults,” said Senator Julia Salazar (D), one of the sponsors of the bill, in a statement. “The vast majority of minors who marry are adolescent girls, and marrying before adulthood often has devastating consequences for them.

Since minors have limited legal rights, although they can get married, they usually cannot file for divorce and therefore have difficulty escaping an unwanted marriage. Laws allowing marriage before the age of 18 also undermine rape laws.

An April 2021 study conducted by Unchained at Last found that nearly 300,000 minors were legally married in the United States between 2000 and 2018, most of them girls aged 16 or 17 (although a few- some were only 10 years old), married to adult men on average four. years older.

In about 60,000 of these marriages, the age difference between spouses should have constituted a sex crime under the law of the state concerned. Of the 60,000, in about 52,800 cases, the marriage license authorized what would otherwise have been considered rape in marriage. In the remaining 7,200, the ages of those involved were such that, although marriage was legal, sex within it was still a crime.

“The cruel and callous practice of child marriage has traumatized too many children to be counted,” said New York Assembly member Phil Ramos (R), another co-sponsor, in a report. communicated. “With the passage of this crucial legislation, minors in New York City will be further protected against this predatory practice, and we can prevent stories like Nalia’s from repeating themselves.”

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