Due to the fact that children as young as 14 years old are allowed to marry in the state of New York, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is supporting a new bill in the State Assembly to end child marriage. Although many countries have reformed their laws to end the practice of child marriage because of its detrimental effects on child brides, the U.S. continues to permit the marriage of a 14-year-old child along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Between 2001 and 2010, at least 3,850 children under the age of 18 were married in the state of New York. Despite the fact that to marry at 14, girls are required to obtain permission from their parents and a judge, international studies conducted by HRW have found that child brides are more likely to drop out of school, end up in poverty, suffer from health disorders, and become victims of domestic abuse.
According to HRW, girls in the U.S. who marry before the age of 19 are 50% more likely to drop out of high school than unmarried females, and four times less likely to complete college. Approximately 31% of married girls under the age of 16 in the U.S. end up in poverty later in life. Studies have also found a direct correlation between child marriage, domestic violence, and both physical and mental disorders associated with a 23% higher rate of disease among child brides.
“The overwhelming majority of married children are girls, most of whom marry spouses who are older than them – sometimes much older,” wrote Janet Walsh, Acting Director of Women’s Rights at HRW, in a recent letter to members of the New York State Assembly and Senate. “Girls sometimes marry as children because they are pregnant, often under pressure from their families. Other married girls become pregnant soon after marriage. Early pregnancy involves serious health risks for pregnant girls and their babies. Pregnant girls, married or not, need to be able to make their own informed choice about whether to continue their pregnancy, and have support and access to care, including contraception and abortion, to allow them to exercise this choice. No child should be pressured or compelled to marry due to pregnancy.
“Married girls also often face domestic violence and sexual violence, including rape, within their homes. Married girls often find it more difficult than married women to escape an abusive or unhappy marriage, and to access services such as shelter and legal assistance.”
Because age restrictions are implemented to prevent children from drinking alcohol, enlisting in the military, or owning a firearm, HRW has launched support for State Assembly Bill A.5524 which would prohibit marriage in New York before the age of 17. Similar legislation has been introduced in Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia.
Countries that no longer allow the marriage of a 14-year-old child include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Malawi, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
“As a first step, New York should change its law,” Walsh continued. “It is frankly shocking that New York permits the marriage of 14 year olds. Such a law is out of step with the rest of the world. Even in countries with high rates of child marriage, there is usually recognition that marriage before the age of 18 is harmful, and an effort to prevent these marriages, beginning with reforming the law. Of the countries where Human Rights Watch has worked to end child marriage, only Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen have laws that would permit the marriage of a 14-year-old.
“State Assembly Bill A.5524 would prohibit marriage in New York before the age of 17, and provide additional protections for children who marry. We believe that this is an important measure to help close a damaging loophole in New York’s current law which threatens the safety and well-being of New York’s children, especially girls. We urge you to support reform of the law.”