On Monday, Democratic Governor of Rhode Island Daniel McKee signed a bill that prohibits child marriage in the state in an attempt to “protect children and prevent exploitation.”
The legislation “would repeal the provision of law granting minors the ability to obtain a marriage license, and would require a person to be of full legal age, at least eighteen (18) years of age to obtain a marriage license.”
As reported by The Associated Press, McKee said that the act gets rid of wording in the state law that permits young people under the age of 18 to get a marriage license if they have parental consent.
The state’s law previously permitted “marriages of teens as young as 16 years old, with the permission of their parents or guardians, and younger if certain actions are carried out with a family court, The Providence Journal reported.
The movement to get rid of the permission in the law was initiated by a New Jersey-based group called “Unchained At Last,” which spreads information and stories about forced child marriages across the country.
Margaret Holland McDuff, the CEO of Family Service of Rhode Island (FSRI), brought information about the child marriage issue to State Representative Julie Casimiro, who sponsored the legislation.
In its testimony, “Unchained At Last” told legislators that “32 children as young as 14 were married in Rhode Island between 2013 and 2019; 88% were girls wed to adult men; Two of those children were married at an age/spousal age difference that met the definition of a sex crime. The state sent those children home to be raped,” reports the Providence Journal.
The Journal reported that McDuff also provided written testimony about abuses in Rhode Island, writing, “In recent years, our [staff] have come into contact with and provided resources to victims of child marriage in our state. In one particular case, FSRI staff provided support services for girls that were discovered to be part of an extensive sex trafficking ring at an area adult club.”
She continued, “The girls were being married to adult men for the sole purpose of being taken across state lines to provide ‘services’ in other parts of New England. The devastating effects of this situation, not only their lives, but the lives of those in their community, could have been prevented with the proposed legislation we’re discussing here today.”
McDuff reportedly did not provide additional details about the alleged sex-ring.
Casimiro said, “Child marriages destroy girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and increase their risk of violence. These young girls risk a 70 to 80% chance of divorce, and they are more likely to end up in poverty than teen moms who remain single.”
She said that these marriages can also be utilized in order to hide abuse or unwanted pregnancies, adding that sometimes “abusive parents use these marriages for financial gain. Sometimes these marriages are used for sex trafficking purposes.”
A study from “Unchained At Last” found that an “estimated 297,033 children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018,” adding that some “96% of the children wed were age 16 or 17, though a few were as young as 10” and around “86% of the children who married were girls — and most were wed to adult men.”
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