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NY moves to ban ‘child marriages’ of youths as young as 14

ALBANY — New York State legislators have moved to outlaw child marriages in which thousands of teenagers as young as 14 years old have been wedded to adults.

After the Assembly’s 116-0 vote Thursday provided final legislative approval, the Senate sent the bill to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Cuomo has strongly supported the effort.

“Children who are 14 and 15 years old should be worrying about their schoolwork and spending time with their friends,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale). “They are much too young to be married. We are seeing girls getting married to much older men, who are being abused physically, mentally and emotionally. This is an appalling practice that destroys the lives of young girls.”

The bill would ban the marriage of youths younger than 17. It also would require a judge’s approval in writing for marriages of 17-year-olds. A judge would also be required to appoint an attorney trained in domestic violence and forced-marriage issues before a 17-year-old could marry.

Between 2000 and 2010, at least 3,850 youths between the ages of 14 and 17 were married statewide, with 84 percent involving a girl marrying a much older man, according to the Senate. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday.

“Children as young as 14 years old, usually girls, are coerced or forced into marriage across New York State,” said Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island). “This bill would prevent this unconscionable act.”

The advocacy groups, including Sanctuary for Families, which heavily lobbied for the issue this year, said the passage in New York has national implications.

“Marriage is rightfully a milestone of adulthood, not childhood,” said Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of the Manhattan-based Sanctuary for Families.

Women’s equality advocates framed the bill as a civil right.

“New York is poised to lead the nation in recognizing child marriage as a human rights violation,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women in New York. “This legislation to save girls from forced marriage is needed more than ever.”

Cuomo has called for similar measures in his State of the State addresses and is expected to sign the bill into law.

“It’s shocking current law allows for children as young as 14 to be married off,” Cuomo said Thursday in a statement. “This is a major step forward that will protect children, prevent forced marriages, and create a safer, more just, New York for all.”

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