PARAMUS, N.J. -- Forced child marriages are an issue even in the United States, and bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus) and many others continues to march through the New Jersey Legislature.
The full Assembly had approved the bill in November, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it on Monday.
"It's shocking to even think that in New Jersey in 2016, child marriages still occur," Lagana said.
"Sadly, they do and usually it's to the detriment of young girls who have no say in the matter. This bill will stop that basic human right violation from occurring right here at home."
Under current law, marriage or civil union licenses can be issued to minors if parents or guardians consent -- and if younger than 16, a judge must also consent. With the amendment, marriage or civil union licenses can only be issued to people 18 and older, full stop.
A 2015 New York Times op-ed noted that more than 3,000 minors were married in New Jersey from 1995 to 2012. While most were 16 or 17, 163 were between 13 and 15. That subset of marriages needed judges' approval.
In these cases, the vast majority of these children -- 90 percent -- were girls.
The op-ed also cites a survey by the Tahirih Justice Center, which provides services to immigrant women and girls. It noted up to 3,000 cases of known or suspected forced marriages in the U.S. in a three-year period. Many of those cases also involving female minors.
Legislation similar to the New Jersey bill is also pending in Maryland and New York. In Virginia, legislation is awaiting the governor's signature that would prohibit minors from marrying unless they petition for emancipation.
The New Jersey measure now awaits final legislative approval from the full Senate.