In a battle between human rights and religious freedom, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a law setting the minimum age to legally get married in the state at 18. This law would, in turn, make New Jersey the second state in the U.S. to effectively ban child marriages.
According to Reuters, New Jersey follows shortly behind Delaware which passed a law enforcing a blanket ban on marriages involving individuals under 18.
Previously, the New Jersey state law allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to obtain marriage licenses as long as they had the consent of their parent(s). Individuals under the age of 16 could obtain a marriage license as well, but they needed parental consent as well as judge approval.
With the new law, parent consent and judge approval are no longer enough. Anyone who wants a marriage license in the state of New Jersey, as well as Delaware, must wait until they are 18 to obtain it.
According to NJ, a non-profit organization called Unchained At Last that focuses on helping young women of all ages get away from forced marriages have testified on numerous occasions that teenage marriages in connection to religion is a more widespread issue than a lot of people realize.
Fraidy Reiss, the founder of the non-profit organization, believes this new law is a massive victory for both female children and young women in the state of New Jersey.
“This is such a personal victory for me — because I’m a forced-marriage survivor, and because I wrote this bill, and because I worked for three years to turn this bill into law,” Reiss wrote in an email to NJ. “We ended a human-rights abuse that destroys girls’ lives.”
According to data obtained by the State Health Department, there were slightly more than 3,600 minors married in the state of New Jersey between the years of 1995 and 2015. The data showed that roughly 95 percent were between the ages of 16 and 17, making the other 5 percent under the age of 16.
Statistics also show that roughly 170,000 children under the age of 18 became married in 38 different states (where this data is available) between the years of 2000 and 2010. These statistics average out to roughly 17,000 child marriages per year within the U.S.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, one of the prime sponsors of the bill, noted that getting the bill to pass was not an easy task.
“Marriage is a loving bond between two people. Forcing young girls into arranged marriages is harmful and a violation of their basic human rights. Getting this law passed was a long fight, but well worth it. I appreciate my colleagues support in helping this legislation became law.”