The Rhode Island General Assembly – on a unanimous vote – has passed a bill (2021-H 5387A) that forbids children from getting married until age 18. The measure was carried in the Assembly by Democratic Representative Julie Casimiro.
"And I think everyone can agree that there is no reason for someone under the age of 18 to marry, especially young girls marrying older men," she tells One News Now. "And if people don't think this is a real thing in their state, it really is."
She points to stats from the Rhode Island Department of Health Center for Biorecords from 2013 to 2019 that reflects 32 child marriages in Rhode Island – and 88% of which were underage girls marrying older men, one child only 14 years old. Too often, she shares, men marry an underage girl to prevent prosecution for statutory rape.
"These marriages can be used to cover up an unwanted pregnancy or cover for abuse. Sometimes abusive parents use these marriages for financial gain. Sometimes these marriages are used for sex-trafficking purposes, as we saw in Rhode Island," the lawmaker explains.
Casimiro points out many of the marriages fail – there is domestic abuse, the girls cannot legally go to a shelter for battered women, and they can't legally hire an attorney for a divorce. According to the group Unchained At Last, when those young girls learn of the limited options, many of them end up attempting suicide because death seems like the only way out for them.
So far four states have passed laws banning child marriages: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Rhode Island would become the fifth. The measure was placed on the Senate Consent Calendar today (June 1) with a recommendation to pass.