Thursday, June 16, 2016

State lawmakers push to end child marriages 

New York lawmakers are pushing legislation to crack down on forced marriages of children by raising the age at which they can legally wed to as high as 18.

Under current state law, kids as young as 14 can get married with court and parental approval.

Between 2000 and 2010, 3,853 children under 18 were married in New York state, according to the advocacy group Unchained at Last.

Many child brides are raped, abused and treated like slaves, according to survivors who escaped coerced marriages.

"They don't have legal authority to file for divorce, and many would be bucking their family's wishes by leaving their husband. If they're lucky, they get child-welfare authorities to intervene and get placed in foster care, said Fraidy Reiss, founder of the advocacy group.

One bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Westchester), would outlaw marriages under the age of 18.

She also introduced two other measures that would raise the age to either 16 or 17. But a judge would have to sign off on the marriage licenses of those under 18, and a child spouse would have to be provided with a lawyer.

Paulin described the current law as scandalous. "In New York, you can marry at age 14, and the age of consent [for sex] is 17 . . . We're legalizing statutory rape by allowing a girl that's younger than 17 to marry someone that's older," she said.

One Hasidic woman told lawmakers her marriage was arranged by her parents when she was 17 — to an abusive man.

"He must have raped me a million times while we were married," the woman, who identified herself as Esther, said in a statement.

She broke off the marriage nine years later, after telling her parents of the domestic abuse.

With the legislative session winding down this week, advocates say they're hopeful one of the bills will be enacted in the 2017 session.

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