In New York, the crime of statutory rape occurs when a person 17 or younger has sex with a person 21 or older. Yet, children as young as 14 are able to marry each other and adults, according to an old law that advocates now demand be repealed.
Democratic Assemblywoman Amy Paulin introduced a bill Tuesday to outlaw child marriage in New York, one of three states along with North Carolina and Alaska that allow 14-year-olds to wed, with parental and judicial consent.
At a news conference Wednesday, the National Organization of Women New York (NOW) called for legislators to support the bill to prohibit marriage before the age of 17.
"It is unbelievable to most people that girls as young as 14 are able to get married to adult men right here in our own state….child marriage is a form of child abuse,” said NOW New York President Sonia Ossorio in a statement.
“Research shows that girls who marry under the age of 18 are at far higher risk of domestic violence, health problems, and poverty," she said. "Our legislators need to act immediately to put an end to this extremely damaging practice now."
According to the New York State Health Department, 3,853 minors were married in the state between 2000 and 2010, and 85 percent of the children who were married between 1997 and 2010 were minor girls wed to adults.
In March 2016, the U.S. State Department made the forced marriage of children one of its three priorities in the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, calling it a “human rights abuse.”
Demonstrators from Unchained At Last and the Human Rights Watch wore white gowns and chains on their wrists outside the state Assembly chamber Tuesday, singing "Save the girls. Be the change. Help us to break the chains," ABC News reported.