On June 2, the New York State Assembly voted unanimously to approve a law ending all marriage before the age of 18 in New York State. The bill had already been approved by the state senate in May. New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, should now sign the bill and end child marriage in New York once and for all.
This bill has been a long time coming. In 2017, New York legislators passed a similar bill that brought only partial reform. Before the 2017 bill, 14-year-olds were allowed to marry in New York, so any reform was welcome, but the law still permitted 17-year-olds to marry.
Human Rights Watch opposes all marriage of children under the age of 18, without exception, because of the devastating consequences for children who marry, the vast majority of whom are girls. Married children usually leave school and are more likely to live in poverty. Married girls are more likely to experience domestic violence than women who marry as adults. Married girls face serious health risks, including death, due to early and closely spaced pregnancies.
Between 2000 and 2018, almost 300,000 children married in the United States. Around the world, 12 million girls under age 18 marry every year. That’s about one every two and a half seconds. If it takes you two minutes to read this, 46 girls married in that time.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed more girls out of school and plunged millions of families into poverty, two of the main risk factors for child marriage. The United Nations estimated in 2020 that an additional 13 million child marriages would take place over the next ten years due to the pandemic.
Child marriage is still legal in 46 US states, but progress is happening. In 2018, it was legal in every state. Activists across the US – and around the world – are pushing for reform, and the United Nations has set a goal of ending all child marriage by 2030.
Governor Cuomo has a chance to make New York the fifth US state to end child marriage. He should do so.