Maybe it doesn’t seem like the most important issue in the world to most of us, raising New York’s minimum age of marriage from 14 to 17.
Seriously, why is this even a thing? Doesn’t the Legislature have better things to do?
It’s true. This issue might not affect you and me. It doesn’t affect most people.
But the minimum marriage age does affect the lives of thousands of young children in New York and throughout the United States. And because it affects the well-being of children, it’s not a frivolous waste of time for the government to take action.
Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 3,800 minors were allowed to marry in New York, most of them young girls married to adult men. In many of those cases, the marriages received approval from the family and state courts.
Across the country between 2009 and 2011, there were 3,000 verified cases of forced marriage. That’s just a period three years.
We’re talking about children barely into puberty. Eighth-graders. Forced by religion, tradition or family compulsion into a long-term, legal and sexual relationship — often with an adult — for which they are physically and psychologically unprepared.
Think nothing of what being legally bound through marriage does to a child’s emotional and psychological development, as well as their prospects for education and employment.
If you’re a parent of a young teenager, could you imagine your daughter or son married? Could you imagine that child having the maturity and experience to make the same decisions you’re forced to make, to handle marriage issues the same way you do?
We don’t allow children to drive, smoke, drink or vote at that age. Yet our state still allows children age 14 and 15 to enter into marriage.
Parental consent, pregnancy or religion would no longer be sole factors in determining a child’s eligibility for marriage, under the bill.
The new minimum marriage age levels would roughly conform to other age limits in existing law. For example, a 21-year-old can be charged with third-degree rape of someone under age 17, even if the minor gives consent, because state law has determined that children under 17 do not have the capacity to legally consent to sex with an adult. (The law makes an exception to the rule when the adult is under 21 and the teen is no more than four years younger.)
The current minimum marriage age is akin to state sanctioning of child molestation, indentured servitude and domestic violence — allowing adults to abuse their child-spouses without fear of being charged with statutory rape.
And given the growing prevalence of human trafficking of children, the existing age limit could provide predators with a legal loophole to ply their trade.
Before anyone tries to make this a religious issue, there are many laws that conflict with religious practices. This would not be the first time government stepped in to protect a vulnerable person from an archaic or cruel ritual.
So, you ask, why is this even a thing? Because it’s about protecting our children. That’s what makes it a thing.
A big thing.