ALBANY – Marriages in New York are legal starting at age 14, but state legislators Tuesday vowed to change the law, saying it leaves children vulnerable to abuse.
Their bill would prohibit marriage under age 17, and marriage for those 17 or 18 would require court approval.
"Child marriage is just not a problem that occurs in countries on the other side of the globe, but it happens right here in our own very backyard," said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, the bill's sponsor.
"Child marriage is forced marriage. It is driven by poverty, deeply embedded beliefs and signifies a pervasive discrimination against young girls."
Currently, New York law allows marriage at age 14 and 15 with parental consent and court approval. At 16 or 17, people can marry solely with parental consent.
Advocates said the law is outdated and leads to forced marriages and abuse, particularly involving young girls.
Some advocates worn wedding gowns and chains with the signs: "Stop Child Marriage in the U.S."
Paulin said the problem is pronounced in New York, saying about 4,000 minors were married in New York between 2000 and 2010 -- with 84 percent of them girls married to older men.
Safia, 20, spoke at the news conference Tuesday at the Capitol, explaining how her parents sought to pressure her to marry at age 16.
Safia, who didn't want her last name used, said she ultimately moved to Hunter College in Manhattan to get away from her parents abuse.
She implored legislators to change the law.
"Will you continue to allow the law to empower abusers or will you protect minors and girls? Your choice is easy," she said.
The measure is backed by the Republican majority in the Senate: Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, is the bill's sponsor.
If approved, it would go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.
Paulin said the current law is problematic: An adult can sexually abuse a child and avoid statutory rape charges by marrying the child.
Also, while a child can bring an annulment proceeding, he or she does not have the right to counsel, and the state will not cover her attorney’s fees. Also, minors do not have the same access to domestic violence help as adults do, she said.