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N.J. Senate passes bill to ban underage marriage

N.J. Senate passed a bill on Monday, March 13, 2017 barring underage marriage in an effort to prevent arranged child marriages. The bill passed in a 26-to-5 vote in the state Senate and has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

The state Assembly unanimously passed the bill on November 11, 2016 with primary sponsors Asm. Nancy Munoz and state Sen. Nellie Pou.

Pou says, “Marriage is a legal contract and it should be reserved for adults. It is startling for people to learn that there are many underage marriages happening here in New Jersey. As a state, we have a responsibility to protect our residents, and moral obligation to protect children and this bill takes the necessary steps to do that.”

All states have set the minimum legal marriage age to 18, but there are exceptions that allow minors to wed with special consent, including marrying with parental permission and judge approval. Since Christie has not yet signed the bill into law, the regulation stands where teenagers 16 and 17 years of age can legally marry with parental consent, while teenagers under 16 years old may marry with parental consent and approval from a state judge. This bill would make N.J. the first to completely ban underage marriage with no exceptions.

“I believe there is almost a 100 percent chance of this [bill] being signed into a law,” says freshman Angela Gugliotta.

Opposition to the legalization of the bill claims that there are already safe-guards against child-marriage and that it is unnecessary. Some opposers also defend that child marriage is a part of some traditions, cultures, or religions, or that teenage couples that result in pregnancy or minors who enlist in the army at 17 should be allowed to marry.

State Sen. Michael Doherty opposes the bill, claiming that it is unnecessary due to the existing safeguards. He also mentioned that New Jersey Right to Life opposes the bill because it may scare pregnant girls into seeking abortions, and that up to 97 percent of the marriages are minors who enlisted in the military and “enter adulthood much earlier.”

Unchained at Last, a non-profit organization, puts its efforts toward eliminating underage marriage and helping young couples remove themselves from a forced marriage. They report that almost 3,500 underage teenagers in N.J. were married between 1995 and 2012. They also estimate that more than 167,000 minors in the United States married between 2000 and 2010.

Sophomore Abigail Aerts was surprised that the statistics for child marriage in the U.S. are as high as they are, saying, “I knew it was a thing but I didn’t expect it to be that common!”

Child marriage is typically a known issue in developing countries, so some people are surprised to hear of its prevalence in America.

A 2011 Journal of Pediatrics study, conducted by Drs. Yann Le Strat, Caroline Dubertret and Bernard Le Foll, concludes that “[c]hild marriages increases the risk of lifetime current psychiatric disorders in the United States. Support for psychiatric vulnerabilities among women married in childhood is required. ”

How young is too young to get married? Should the government get to decide?

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