New York bans child marriages, but 27 other states say it's fine

June 21, 2017, 10:40am

New York may be home to the Statue of Liberty and some of the country’s most liberal political agendas, but up until now child marriages were still legal in the state, as in 27 others.

Overturning a longstanding loophole that allowed minors to be married off, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed legislation on Tuesday effectively banning child marriages by raising the minimum age of consent from 14 to 18. The bill also requires 17- and 18-year-olds to get approval from their parents and the courts before legally being allowed to get married.

Cuomo called out child marriage as a priority back in February, saying New Yorkers would be “shocked” to know legislation allowing child marriages had been in place for so many years. Nearly 4,000 minors were married — sometimes in arranged or forced marriages — in New York between 2001 and 2010, the majority teen girls marrying older men, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). For all of the U.S. during the period 2000 to 2010, the number was about 248,000, based on marriage-license data collected by advocacy group Unchained at Last.

“Child marriage is a dirty secret in the U.S., and other states should follow New York’s example by enacting laws to help end this harmful practice,” said Heather Barr, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. Among the social and economic consequences, young women who marry before their 19th birthday are four times less likely to complete college and 31 percent more likely to end up in poverty compared to young unmarried women, according to HRW referring to a 2010 study.

It’s a problem in the U.S. and worldwide. Here are some key stats:

  • In more than half of the states in the U.S., child marriage is entirely legal because there is no minimum age limit on the books. The parties simply need court approval.
  • In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, 12- and 13-year-old girls and 14-year-old boys can marry with parental and court approval.
  • West Virginia has the highest rate of child marriages: 7 in 1,000 17-year-olds were married in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center study.
  • Over 9.4 million teens in the U.S. are married at age 16 or younger and have limited access to shelter or legal services, according to the Tahirih Justice Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls fleeing violence.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law banning child marriages last week, attempting to curtail Texas’ ranking as the state with the second-highest rate of underage marriages in the U.S. Virginia signed a similar bill in June 2016, closing a loophole that allowed young girls to get married if they were pregnant and had parental approval.