Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning child marriage in New York State on Thursday by raising the age of consent to 18, according to NBC. The move comes four years after New York raised the age of consent to 17 with parental or judicial consent.
"This administration fought hard to successfully end child marriage in New York and I'm proud to sign this legislation to strengthen our laws and further protect vulnerable children from exploitation," Gov. Cuomo said in a statement. "Children should be allowed to live their childhood, and I thank the many legislators and advocates who worked diligently to advance this measure and further prevent forced marriages in this state."
A 2021 study from Unchained at Last, an organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States, found that nearly 300,000 minors were legally married in the US between 2000 and 2018. While nearly all of the minors were at least 16 or 17 years old, a few were as young as 10, underscoring the dangers of legally allowing minors to wed.
Child marriage contributes to the fact that young women and girls around the world face disproportionate rates of gender-based violence simply because of who they are. These forms of violence can include sexual harassment, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sexual abuse.
We've fought hard to successfully end child marriage and today I'm proud to sign legislation raising the age of consent to be married in NYS to 18.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) July 22, 2021
Kids should be able to be kids. I thank the many legislators & advocates who made this law possible. https://t.co/VM0ChVE4kh
According to the global NGO Girls Not Brides, girls married before the age of 15 are nearly 50% more likely to have experienced intimate partner violence compared to those married after 18. Domestic and sexual violence has led to lower educational attainment and fewer economic and employment opportunities for girls.
For this reason, child marriage is another form of gender-based violence that acts as a barrier to achieving the United Nations’ Global Goal 5, which advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
While New York took steps to outlaw child marriage in 2017, minors could still wed with parental or judicial consent, which some activists say allowed the practice to continue. This is particularly true in situations where parents urged their children to marry young because of religious and cultural traditions.
“The judicial review process is evil because it puts the onus on a 17-year-old girl to find a way out of this situation,” Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained at Last, told the New York Times in 2017. “If she tells the judge she does not want to marry, her parents will know she said that. We have seen parents retaliate in many ways — locking a girl in her room or taking her overseas and forcing her to marry there.”
With the signing of this bill, which is called Nalia's Law in honor of a survivor who was forced into child marriage at 13 years old, New York has joined five other states in the US — Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Rhode Island — that have made it illegal for minors to wed, without exceptions.
The legislation will take effect 30 days after it becomes law and apply to licenses issued after that date.
"Regardless of maturity level, minors lack sufficient legal rights and autonomy that they need to protect them if they enter a marriage contract before becoming adults,” New York State Sen. Julia Salazar, a sponsor of the bill, said. “I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this bill to finally prohibit child marriage without exceptions in New York, and commend the continued work of Unchained at Last in advocating to prohibit child marriage nationwide."