Senate passes Burke bill prohibiting child marriage


STATE HOUSE — The Senate today passed legislation introduced by Sen. John Burke (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick) that would prohibit marriage among anyone below the age of 18.

The bill (2021-S 0398aa) would amend current state law that allows the practice with the consent of a parent.

“While child marriage is rare in Rhode Island, it does happen,” said Senator Burke. “Between 2013 and 2019, 32 minors — one as young as 14 — were married in Rhode Island, the vast majority of them being girls. And most often, child marriage is forced marriage, with minors being compelled to marry by their parents. It’s time for the state to put an end to this outrageous practice.”

The legislation has garnered the support of Kids Count RI, The Office of the Child Advocate and UNICEF, which has long lobbied against child marriages across the planet.

Minors who are married lack the same legal protections that married adults have. For instance, those who are victims of domestic violence have little recourse, since battered women’s shelters will not accept minors without parental consent. They also cannot petition for divorce.

“These marriages are the only legally binding contract that we allow a person below the age of 18 to enter,” said Senator Burke. “It’s an antiquated holdover from British common law and a loophole we need to close.”

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives, where similar legislation (2021-H 5387) has been introduced by Rep. Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter).



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