A group of nearly 50 protesters of all ages, dressed in bridal gowns, chains and veils, joined Unchained At Last for a Chain-In outside of NJ Asm. Jon Bramnick’s office on June 14, 2017 – to urge Bramnick to stand up to Gov. Chris Christie and withdraw A4883, the bill Bramnick introduced to accept Christie’s conditional veto of A3091. That bill would have ended child marriage in New Jersey.
Survivors and activists, including high school and middle school students, addressed the crowd sharing powerful stories of forced child marriage and voicing outrage that child marriage remains legal in New Jersey because of Christie’s veto.
“Do I look old enough to get married?” asked eighth grader Sophie Tannenbaum.
“NO!” the protesters replied.
Photo Credit: Christina Morris
Speakers who addressed the crowd at the Chain-In included:
- Fraidy Reiss, Unchained At Last
- Naila Amin, Naila Amin Foundation
- Katie Foley, Westfield High School student and activist
- Deb Huber, National Organization for Women-NJ
- Sophie Tannenbaum, student at Edison Intermediate School in Westfield
- Rev. Chani Getter, interfaith minister
- Mandi Zucker, social activist and co-chair of the social-action committee of Temple Emanu-El
- Sophie Hurwitz, Westfield High School student and activist
Saxophonist Chris Lijoi led protesters as they sang “We Are Girls, Not Brides”, haunting song written by girls in Zambia and owned by Girls Not Brides.
Under current law in New Jersey, children age 16 or 17 can marry with parental “consent” (which often is “coercion”). Children 15 and younger – with no minimum age – can marry with judicial approval (and the law does not specify any criteria that a judge must consider).
Some 3,600 children as young as 13 were married in New Jersey between 1995 and 2014 – almost all girls wed to adult men. More than 105 of them were married, with judicial approval, to older spouses with an age difference that constitutes statutory rape. Yet Christie insisted with his conditional veto that this same failed judicial-review process now be used for children at precisely the ages, 16 and 17, when they face the greatest risk of forced marriage.
Further, Christie’s conditional veto did not even try to address the two main reasons we must end child marriage. First, children can easily be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage before they turn 18 and become legal adults. They face overwhelming legal and practical barriers if they try to leave home, access a shelter, retain an attorney or bring a legal action.
Second, the lifelong impacts of marriage before 18 on girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and overall quality of life are devastating enough that the U.S. State Department considers marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse.”
Bramnick, in his bill to accept Christie’s unacceptable conditional veto, added a line about allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to marry if they would suffer “substantial harm” by not marrying. This language is offensive to children. How can a child suffer “substantial harm” by NOT being subjected to a human-rights abuse? Is Bramnick providing cover for the parents and judges who have been caught forcing pregnant girls to marry their own rapist?
Unchained urges Bramnick: Do not cave to a governor who has shown deplorable lack of concern about children. Stand up to the governor. Override his veto.