New York bans child marriage, raises age of legal consent to 18

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York became the sixth state to ban marriages involving a minor on Thursday, raising the age of consent to be married at 18.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the legislation, adding in a statement that the new law will “further protect vulnerable children from exploitation.

“Children should be allowed to live their childhood,” Cuomo said. “I thank the many legislators and advocates who worked diligently to advance this measure and further prevent forced marriages in this state.”

The law will take effect in 30 days and will apply to licenses issued after the date, and marriages that had not been solemnized before that date, WABC reported.

In June, Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee signed legislation barring minors from being married, The Washington Post reported. Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware have enacted similar laws, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa, the newspaper reported.

Most states still allow youths under the age of 18 to marry, including those who are legally emancipated or who have parental consent or judicial approval, CBS News reported.

The bill, called Nalia’s Law, is named after a survivor who was forced to marry when she was 13, NBC News reported. New York raised the age of consent from 14 to 17 with parental or judicial consent in 2017, according to The New York Times.

Since 1929, New York has permitted 14- and 15-year-olds to marry with judicial and parental approval, the newspaper reported. Minors who were 16 and 17 were allowed to marry with only parental consent.

Nearly 5,000 children were married in New York between 2000 and 2018, according to a study released in April by Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that advocates against child marriage in the United States.

According to the study, nearly 300,000 children were legally married nationally during that same time period, the Post reported. Of that figure, 86% were girls and most were married to adult men, the newspaper reported.

Several minors were as young as 10; nearly all were 16 or 17, the study said.

“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,” state Sen. Julia Salazar, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “The vast majority of minors who enter a marriage are teenage girls, and getting married before adulthood often has devastating consequences for them. I thank Gov. 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.”

State Rep. Phil Ramos, who also sponsored the bill, said the legislation will “prevent stories like Nalia’s from repeating themselves.”

“The cruel and callous practice of child marriage has traumatized too many children to count. Nalia’s Law, which will raise the age of consent for marriage to 18 and prohibit marriage if either person is underage, is named after one brave survivor of forced child marriage who I was lucky enough to meet,” Ramos said in a statement. “With the passage of this crucial legislation, minors in New York will be further protected from this predatory practice.”