WESTFIELD, NJ – A mixed group of men, women and children took to the sidewalk outside New Jersey Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick’s office on Wednesday night to participate in a “chain-in” to protest Bramnick's proposed bill regarding child marriage.
Dressed in wedding gowns, veils and at times with tape across their mouths, protesters wore chains around their wrists and chanted “End child marriage now! Ask us and we’ll tell you how.”
The protest was organized by Fraidy Reiss, executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit based in Westfield that helps women and girls escape forced marriages. Reiss drafted bill A3091, which would ban child marriage in New Jersey.
“Marriage before 18 is a human rights abuse,” Reiss, who was forced into marriage at age 19, said. “Child marriage helps no one and harms everyone it touches.”
Reiss’s bill was passed by state legislature but conditionally vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, who proposed adding more restrictions to the state's current law, which grants marriage licenses to minors age 16 and older with parental consent and to children under 16 with the permission of a family court judge.
On June 1, Bramnick introduced Bill A4883 which attempts to balance Christie’s conditions. The bill would ban those under 16 from marriage and only grant marriage licenses to minors age 16 and older if the denial of said license would result in “substantial damage to the minor.”
“I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Reiss said. “How could there ever be substantial harm to a child by not being subjected to a human rights abuse? I understand that he said he’s trying to make it difficult to allow a child marriage, but if you want to make it difficult to allow a child marriage, pass A3091. Override Christie’s veto. Don’t pass this messed-up bill and don’t subject girls to a judicial review.”
According to Reiss, subjecting a 16- or 17-year-old to judicial review, regardless of the standards, forces children to choose between two options – telling the judge they are forced into marriage and dealing with repercussions from their parents, or unwillingly entering into marriage and subjecting themselves to rape, abuse and a future that most likely does not include education, health or economic opportunities.
“I had no right to leave home or go ask for help because I was 17 years old,” protestor Chani Getter, who was married as a teenager, said. “At the age of 20, I had two kids. Every year that we push this is another child. From 16 to 18 is two children and a high school diploma. That’s the reality.”
“I’m in eighth grade,”another protester said. “Do I look young enough to be a bride?”
On Wednesday, Bramnick released a statement that said his legislation has “extremely tough standards” and makes child marriage “almost impossible.”
“I ask all supporters of the law to ban underage marriages to join with me to get it passed now,” Bramnick said.