New York Officially Bans Child Marriage, Only Sixth State in U.S. to Do So

New York on Thursday became the sixth state in the U.S. to officially ban child marriage.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed into law legislation raising the age of consent for marriage to 18.

"This administration fought hard to successfully end child marriage in New York, and I'm proud to sign this legislation to strengthen our laws and further protect vulnerable children from exploitation," Cuomo said in a statement. "Children should be allowed to live their childhood, and I thank the many legislators and advocates who worked diligently to advance this measure and further prevent forced marriages in this state."

The governor approved legislation in 2017 that aimed to ban child marriage, raising the age of consent from 14 to 18. But the law included an exception where 17-year-olds could be married with the consent of parents and the courts.

The new bill signed Thursday closes that loophole, forbidding any marriage in which either person is under the age of 18. The law will go into effect in 30 days.

"Regardless of maturity level, minors lack sufficient legal rights and autonomy that they need to protect them if they enter a marriage contract before becoming adults," state senator Julia Salazaar said in a statement. "The vast majority of minors who enter a marriage are teenage girls, and getting married before adulthood often has devastating consequences for them."

New York is just the sixth state in the country to ban marriage before the age of 18. Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are the only other states that have officially banned child marriage.

Many states have a minimum marriage age for minors with parental consent, ranging from 12 to 17 years old. But several states, such as California, Massachusetts and Wyoming, have no minimum age for minors when all exceptions are taken into place.

NY 6th State to ban child marriage
New York on Thursday became the sixth state in the U.S. to officially banned child marriage. In this photo, "Just Married" is seen written on the back window of a newlywed couple's car parked in Nashville, Tennessee. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

According to Unchained At Last, a nonprofit that works to end forced and child marriage, an estimated 4,890 children were subjected to child marriage in New York between 2000 and 2018. Almost all were girls wed to adult men, the group said in a news release.

A study released by Unchained At Last in April reported nearly 300,000 minors were legally married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018. Some were as young as 10, the report found, though a vast majority were 16 or 17 years old.

Roughly 86 percent of the children who married were girls, and most were wed to adult men. When girls married, their average spousal age difference was four years, whereas when boys married, their average spousal age difference was 1.5 years, the group found.