Amy Paulin To Host A Press Conference To Discuss Changing The Child Marriage Laws In New York

Published by Amy Paulin on

ALBANY – Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-88) will host a Feb. 14 press conference on The Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol to discuss the legislation she introduced to change the child marriage laws in New York State.

Paulin will be joined by New York City Council Member Andrew Cohen, who introduced Resolution 1244 in which the City Council calls on the State Legislature to pass the bill and for Governor Cuomo to sign it, for the 11 a.m. announcement. Sonia Ossorio, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW) – New York State, Fraidy Reiss, founder and director of Unchained at Last, and Dorchen Leidholdt, the director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at the Sanctuary for Families in New York City, will also participate.

The current minimum age to marry in New York State is 14. If a child is 16 or 17, she can marry with parental consent. If a child is 14 or 15, she can marry with parental consent plus the approval of the court. The law enables children to be forced into marriage by their parents who bring their children before the court or the court clerk, as the case may be, to provide their “consent” when in reality the parents have threatened the child with beatings, ostracism or death if the child refuses to marry.

Paulin’s bill would prohibit marriage of children under 17 while marriage for children age 17 to under 18 would require court approval.child-marriage

“Nearly 4,000 minors were married in New York between 2000 and 2010 and more than 84 percent of those children were minor girls married to adult men,” Paulin said. “An adult can sexually abuse a child and avoid statutory rape charges by marrying the child. If an adult has sex with someone 16 or younger it is statutory rape but if the adult marries the child, then he can force her to have non-consensual sex whenever he wants. A child under 17 does not have the capacity to consent to sex under our penal law.

“This is an appalling practice that destroys the lives of young girls. How is it possible that we allow a 14-year-old to get married? Yet we don’t allow her any practical ways out.  She can’t sue for divorce in her own name. Under current law, she would have to sue for divorce through a parent, who likely forced her into the marriage in the first place, or through a guardian.”

While a child can bring an annulment proceeding in her own name, she does not have the right to counsel and the state will not cover her attorney’s fees.  And even if she did get the marriage annulled, annulment does not allow for property distribution or spousal maintenance, essentially condemning the young girl to a life of poverty.  She would likely be cut off from her family, without access to education and work opportunities, particularly if she has children.  Child marriage is associated with early pregnancies because child brides are often unable to negotiate access to safe sex and medical care.

Minors also face significant hurdles in accessing a domestic violence shelter to escape a marriage or domestic violence during the marriage.  They are referred to general homeless shelters which do not provide the confidentiality or support services that forced marriage victims need to remain safe from their abusers and cope with their trauma. In addition, minors are not permitted to voluntarily stay at runaway/ homeless youth shelters longer than 30 days, and their guardians must be notified of their whereabouts within 72 hours of admission into the shelter.

“Consent is not consent when it is contingent upon the permission of someone else,” Cohen said. “I believe this fundamentally, which is why I introduced a resolution at the New York City Council in support of Assembly Member Amy Paulin’s proposed legislation to ban child marriages. You can’t buy cigarettes or alcohol until you’re 21. You can’t get a tattoo until you are 18. You can’t enlist in the military until age 17. A child, as young as 14, should not be allowed to enter into a binding union on the say-so of a judge or her parents. Such a decision should wait until adulthood, when one is actually able to consent, which is why Assembly Member Paulin, the advocates, and I are working to end underage marriages.”

“As long as New York fails to close these loopholes, girls as young as 14 will continue to be at risk for arranged marriages,” Ossorio said. “The problem is particularly acute for older teens who are coerced into arranged marriages at greater numbers.”

“The impacts of child marriage on a girl’s life are devastating and long-lasting, undermining her health, education and economic opportunities and increasing her risk of experiencing violence,” Reiss said.

“I can’t even begin to imagine the physical, psychological and emotional traumas these children have suffered,” Paulin added. “We must safeguard the health, safety and welfare of our children, who are the future of our society.”

“Child marriage halts girls’ education, steps up their risk of spousal battery and rape, and increases the likelihood that they will suffer injury or death in childbirth. New Yorkers who value our daughters oppose the marriage of any girl before age 17 and countenance it after that only with careful scrutiny from a court,” Leidholdt said.