If the New York State Senate voting to end child marriage wasn’t enough, less than an hour later the Rhode Island State Senate voted to advance our legislation as well. S398, sponsored by our legislative champion, Senator John Burke, received bipartisan support from the entire chamber and was passed unanimously.
Rhode Island’s existing marital laws set a superficial minimum marital age at 18. Though this might appear to protect against child marriage on the surface, abusive, forced marriages are still entirely possible because of dangerous loopholes to this law. If S398 becomes law, Rhode Island will become the fifth state in the country to end underage marriage.
It’s 2021, and Child Marriage is Still a Problem in Rhode Island
Most Rhode Islanders are under the impression that child marriage is a practice of a bygone era. Unfortunately, this couldn’t farther from the truth: between 2000 and 2019, 176 children as young as 14 were married in the state.
These nearly 200 child marriages aren’t high school sweethearts, nor are they Romeo and Juliet scenarios. Though there are instances of those married as minors going onto have decades-long marriages and happy families, these few instances are unfortunately the exception, not the rule.
The data underscores this: 88% of the child marriages in Rhode Island consisted of a girl marrying an older man.
Rhode Island’s Current Child Marriage Laws Trap Minors in Marriage
Through a combination of deadly loopholes, children of virtually any age can be married in Rhode Island. Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds need only parental consent to be married, and those younger than 15 just need to receive additional judicial approval. With parents frequently perpetrating these marriages, Rhode Island’s statutory loopholes only lead to additional cases of abusive child marriages.
To make matters even worse, marriage for minors in Rhode Island is designed to trap children. While a child can enter into marriage through the above exceptions, they can’t independently leave. As a minor, they are unable to file for divorce in their own name and cannot retain an attorney. They’re unable to even seek the assistance of a domestic violence shelter and will be returned to their spouse if they attempt to run away.
The Senate Voted to End Child Marriage: We Need YOU to Help Convince the House
Students Against Child Marriage applauds the Rhode Island Senate for unanimously supporting this life-saving legislation. Representatives Julie Casimiro and Thomas Noret, our dedicated House bill sponsors, are pushing for success in the lower chamber. But we need YOUR help to ensure bill H5387 passes.
If you’re a Rhode Island resident, click here to instantly email your lawmakers today. Not from Rhode Island? Not a problem! Our organization is pushing for parallel legislation across the United States. Click here to join Students Against Child Marriage, and use this link to email your lawmakers from any state!