New York Just Made a Big Move To Protect Children from This Legal Form of Sexual Abuse

June 21st 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

The state of New York just banned something you probably thought was already against the law.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday making the marriage of children under the age of 17 illegal. But in most states it's actually legal with parental consent.

“This administration has worked tirelessly to defend exploited and disadvantaged New Yorkers, provide minors with the rights and protections that they deserve, and ensure that women are empowered to have control over their own lives,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “With this legislation, we continue to help protect those who cannot protect themselves.”

Previously, children as young 14 years old could be married in the state with parental consent. Although, the new law raises the age minimum significantly, 17-year-olds can still marry with a judge's permission, according to Human Rights Watch.

Twitter users, including former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, applauded the new law as an important step to aid in halting sexual abuse and forced marriages.

Alaska and Colorado also allow children as young as 14 years old to get married with parental consent, and every state allows exceptions for minors to be married. The most common exception for a legal child marriage is parental consent. Another option is judicial consent, where a court approves or denies the marriage of a minor. Laws in 27 states do not set an age minimum for exceptions, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 250,000 children, some as young as 12 were married in the U.S., according to Unchained at Last, an organization dedicated to ending child marriage. An analysis by the organization of data in New Jersey from 1995 to 2012, showed that 91 percent of marriages involving minors included a minor married to an adult. Marriages entered by a child with parental consent can be forced, and often would result in at least a statutory rape charge if not for the legal protections, Fraidy Reiss, founder and executive director of Unchained, wrote. 

"Based on my own experience working with forced-marriage victims across the United States, I am sure many of these children had to marry against their will," she wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in 2015. "Forced marriage is a widespread but often ignored problem in the United States."

Texas recently signed an anti-child marriage law that restricts marriage under the age of 18 only to legally emancipated minors, and the Pew Research Center reports that Texas has the highest rate of child marriage for girls and the second highest rate overall, second only to West Virginia. Bills restricting marriages for minors have been introduced in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California, according to Human Rights Watch.

In March, California state lawmaker Jerry Hill, introduced a bill that would ban all marriages of anyone under the age of 18, and if passed it will be the strictest marriage law in the country, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“While we respect all cultures and faiths, we cannot support practices that rob youth of their childhood,” Hill said in March. “It affects young children, yes, but I wouldn’t consider teenagers to be prepared for marriage when they’re 15 to 17 either.”

However, a survivor of a forced child marriage wrote an opinion piece in The Daily Californian claiming the proposed law does not go far enough. Sara Tasneem said she was coerced into a marriage when she was 15 years old to a man almost twice her age, by her religious and physically abusive father. She wrote that the most current versions of Hill's original bill is "watered down."

"Under the current proposed bill, minors would have to undergo separate interviews to determine permission to marry," wrote Tasneem in the piece published on May 31. "While this is a step in the right direction, it will not serve to protect minors from entering into what most would consider the biggest contract of their lives. If minors do not have the ability to consent to sex, vote, or even buy a pack of cigarettes, they should not have the ability into a marriage contract where consent is questionable and easily coerced."

RELATED: The Child Marriage Problem The U.S. Doesn't Know It Has