New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill Thursday that raises the age of consent to be married in the state to 18 — effectively banning child marriage.
The bill, called Nalia’s Law, is named after a survivor who was forced into marriage at age 13. In 2017, New York raised the age of consent from 14 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,” Cuomo, a Democrat, 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.”
Child marriage happens in America through various legal loopholes and exceptions at the state level, which is where marriage licenses are issued, experts note. Unchained At Last, a national advocacy group that advocates for ending child marriage and lobbied for the New York bill, said that five other states have passed similar laws banning all marriage before the age of 18: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Rhode Island.
A majority of states allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry, a few allow 14-year-olds, and roughly a dozen states have no minimum marriage age, according to The Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy group for people fleeing violence. But, even as more states take action to end child marriage, concerns about government overreach, along with scant data about the extent of the problem, have driven skepticism to reform in both red and blue states across the country.
Nearly 300,000 minors — people under the age of 18 — were legally married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, an April study by Unchained at Last found. Several were as young as 10, though nearly all were age 16 or 17, the study said. Most were young girls wed to adult men an average of four years older.
New York’s bill will fine anyone issuing a marriage license to an ineligible person and charge the issuer with a misdemeanor, according to the bill. The legislation takes effect 30 days after becoming law and will apply to licenses issued after that date and marriages that had not been completed prior to that date.
State Rep. Phil Ramos, a Democrat and a sponsor of the legislation, said the bill will “prevent stories like Nalia’s from repeating themselves.
Democratic state Sen. Julia Salazar, also one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement child marriage has “devastating consequences” for the life trajectory of young girls and the bill would protect them.
“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,” she said.