Yesterday, the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously voted in favor of Senate Bill S.2294 to ban child marriage in the state. After each senator said “yes,” the public gallery, filled with members of the Children’s League of Massachusetts, other constituents, and UNICEF USA volunteers, erupted in applause. The gavel fell, signaling an important victory in the quest to end child marriage in the state.
More than 1,200 children in Massachusetts were married between 2000 and 2016, primarily girls marrying adult men. Marriage places girls – who are far more likely to be subjected to child marriage than boys – at risk of harm to their health, curtailed education, poverty, and domestic violence.
In 48 US states, child marriage is permitted legally under certain circumstances. Massachusetts law currently allows children under 18 to wed with parental consent and judicial approval. When those conditions are met, there is no statutory minimum age.
The bill passed yesterday prohibits marriage below the age of 18 with no exceptions, and enjoys wide bipartisan support from legislators in Massachusetts. The unanimous vote in favor of the bill in the state senate sends a strong message to child marriage survivors who have dared to share their stories publicly, that they have been heard. Their accounts have illustrated how marrying young robs kids of their childhood and rights.
The strong vote is also a testament to grassroots organizing. Human Rights Watch interviewed middle school students who expressed shock at peers their own age getting married. More than 40,000 people signed a petition urging Massachusetts to end child marriage. More than 40 organizations joined a coalition to end this practice and support the bill.
In order to become law, the House Judiciary Committee must now assign a hearing to the House version of the bill, H.1478, and vote in favor. The 160-member House should then do the same. Once approved, the bill would go to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to be signed into law.
The movement to end child marriage is strong and growing. Finally, state senators have brought Massachusetts one step closer to being the next state to ban child marriage in the US.