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Pou-Weinberg-Cunningham Bill Protecting Minors from Forced Marriage Goes to Governor

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou, Senator Loretta Weinberg and Senator Sandra Cunningham to prevent forced child marriages cleared the full Senate today.

The bill, S-2528, would bar the issuance of marriage or civil union licenses to all persons under the age of 18, regardless of parental or judicial consent. Under current law, marriage or civil union licenses may not be issued to minors under the age of 18 unless a parent or guardian consents. If the minor is under the age of 16, a judge of the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Family Part must also consent to the marriage or civil union.

“Marriage is a legal contract and it should be reserved for adults,” said Senator Pou. “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.”

“This is an issue that needs to be addressed for the mental and physical health of young people. Marriage is an adult decision and minors shouldn’t be asked to enter into this kind of arrangement for any reason,” said Senator Weinberg. “This legislation is about preserving basic human rights and ensuring that young girls, in particular, are not forced into marriage against their will.”

According to a New York Times Editorial, more than 3,000 children under the age of 18 were married in New Jersey between 1995 and 2012. Most were 16 or 17 and married with parental consent, but 163 were between the ages of 13 and 15, meaning a judge approved their marriages. Furthermore, New Jersey data shows that 90 percent of the children married were girls, which is consistent with global trends.

“Our job as lawmakers is to protect our residents, and that protection doesn’t start when they turn 18. This is about protecting our young people and not putting them in an environment that could cause undue harm,” said Senator Cunningham. “It may be hard for some to believe that forced marriages are happening in the United States, but they are and they happen far too often for unjust reasons.”

Similar legislation is pending in other states like Maryland and New York. In Virginia, legislation is awaiting the Governor’s signature which would prohibit minors under the age of 18 from marrying unless they petition for emancipation.

The bill cleared the Senate 26-5 and cleared the Assembly 64-0-7 last year.

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk.