Ending Child Marriage in New York

Loopholes in New York’s marriage laws allow thousands of children as young as 14 to be married. Join us in our effort to end child marriage in New York.

It happens here

Most people don’t think of child marriage as a New York problem. Current law in New York and many other states, however, makes child marriage not just a possibility, but a sad reality for thousands of children.

As the law in New York currently stands, children ages 14 and 15 may be married with parental consent and judicial approval, and children ages 16 and 17 may be married with parental consent.

Parental consent or parental coercion

We believe that the current law in New York fails to protect children from entering into involuntary marriages. Parents and family can force children into marriage using threats and/or physical assault, and can often do so without encountering any significant legal barriers from City Clerks Offices.

According to data from the NY State Department of Health, 3,853 children under the age of 18 were married in New York State between 2000 and 2010.

A vast majority—about 85%—of the children married in that same study were young girls who were, more often than not, married to adult men. A separate study done in 2011, for example, found that a 14 year old was married to a 26 year old, a 15 year old to a 28 year old, a 16 year old to someone age 30-34, and a 17 year old to someone age 45-49.

While anyone can become a victim of forced marriage regardless of age, children face additional barriers because of their status as minors. From renting an apartment to opening up their own bank account – these challenges can often prevent minors from leaving an unwanted or abusive marriage.

Moreover, the current law permits child marriage in cases where sexual relationships between adults and children would otherwise constitute statutory rape.

Because of the legal exceptions that permit child marriage, authorities such as the police, school officials, and children’s services may be unsure of their role and duty to protect a child from a forced marriage, even when she or he reaches out for help.

Their stories

Child marriage is not a problem particular to one type of population, group or gender (boys can be victims as well). The stories below are composites of experiences shared by survivors of child marriage.

  • Arielle was only 17 years old when she was told she’d be marrying the almost 30 year old man she had just met. All her life, the importance of having children had been stressed to Arielle by her family and members of her Orthodox community. As soon as she was married in a legal ceremony, Arielle and her husband began trying to have children. Though Arielle did not know her husband, and did not want to have a sexual relationship, her husband, family, and in-laws repeatedly chastised her for not having children. After a year of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, Arielle’s husband began to physically and verbally abuse her. Her in-laws and family supported her husband, saying that he was entitled to children and that Arielle must be doing something wrong. As the abuse worsened, Arielle began sneaking out of the house whenever possible. Arielle began to make friends in the surrounding neighborhood, and in her 20s, after suffering years of abuse, was able to escape her marriage with the assistance of friends.
  • Marie was married in New York at the age of 15, to a man who was in his late 40s at the time. Though they lived in the United States, Marie’s family closely kept traditions observed by her extended family in West Africa, where her parents were from. Marie’s parents had promised her at birth to a man also from their home country who lived in New York. Though Marie did not want to get married, and wanted to continue her studies and eventually go to college, her family began pressuring her from a young age to get married to this man three decades years older than her. Despite Marie’s protests, her family refused to listen to her. Marie felt powerless, and though she protested, her parents gave this man written “consent” for the marriage, and a judge approved. Thus, Marie was legally married in New York at 15 years old to a much older adult man. From the day Marie was married, she suffered severe sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Marie is still married and is seeking counseling and legal support to leave her abusive situation, tracing back to her childhood.
  • Sara moved to the United States from South Asia with her parents and older siblings. Her parents struggled financially but met a man who agreed to help them. One day, this man offered to apply for the family’s green cards and continue to provide financial support in exchange for marrying Sara. Sara’s parents pressured her to marry the man to secure the family’s immigration and financial situation, and she was soon wed to him at age 14. After her wedding, Sara was repeatedly raped and forced to cook and clean for her husband before she reached out to her teacher and was connected to Sanctuary.

We can end it

Marrying at any age before the age of 18 harms children’s health and education opportunities and increases their likelihood of facing poverty and domestic violence. Join Sanctuary and advocates across New York to help end child marriage in New York State.

On February 14th, 2017 Assembly Member Amy Paulin will introduce Assembly Bill A.5524. The bill will prohibit marriage of children under 17. Marriages for children age 17 to under 18 will require court approval. This is important step in the right direction and will save thousands of children from being forced into marriage against their will.

Here’s what you can do:

Contact your New York State Assembly Member and urge them to support Assembly Bill  A.5524. Contact your New York State Senator to support the Senate equivalent.

Contact your New York City Council Member to urge them to sign onto Resolution 1244-2016, which calls upon the New York State Legislature to pass legislation prohibiting marriage under 18 without exceptions.

Sign Sanctuary’s petition and talk to others in your community to show legislators that New Yorkers are standing up against child marriage. Please get in touch with us to learn more about our advocacy efforts and how you can get involved.

Sayoni Maitra is a former staff attorney for Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project.

Advocate Spotlight: Photojournalist Donna Ferrato Shines a Light on Domestic Violence

Donna Ferrato BACK IN THE EARLY 80s, when Sanctuary for Families’ five founding members were

Donna Ferrato

BACK IN THE EARLY 80s, when Sanctuary for Families’ five founding members were struggling to shelter just 35 women and children each night, photojournalist and activist Donna Ferrato was there, on the front-line, capturing the varied faces of domestic violence with her camera.

Over the course of the next decade, Donna went to demonstrations, attended conferences, hung around courtrooms and hospital emergency rooms, rode with police, sat in on batterers’ therapy groups and women’s self-defense classes, and lived in women’s shelters, women’s prisons, and the violent homes in which domestic violence occurred. At a time when marital rape was still legal in many states, Donna’s photographs shined a light on an issue that few women spoke of, but an estimated 66% of women had or would experience during their marriages.

Drawing on these experiences and the photographs she took along the way, Donna published her seminal book, Living With the Enemy. Her advocacy did not stop there. In 2011, Donna launched “I am Unbeatable” through Domestic Abuse Awareness Inc., a non-profit organization she founded in 1991.

“I am Unbeatable”

“I AM UNBEATABLE” aims to raise awareness, educate and prevent domestic violence against women and children by sharing the archive of stories, photographs, and video narratives Donna developed over the course of nearly four decades of work in the field. Currently, the project is raising money to support the Quincy Area Network Against Domestic Abuse (Quanada), a service provider in Quincy, Illinois.

Quanada serves five counties in southern Illinois, but due to the state’s budget crisis,  critical funds have been put on indefinite hold. With the next closest shelter over an hour away, shelter employees have worked without a salary for months in order to keep the shelter doors open. Like Sanctuary, Quanada provides emergency shelter and advocacy services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. These services are critical to the safety and well-being of many families in the area. Quanada needs to raise 40,000 to make up for their funding gap. You can support Quanada but donating to their IndieGoGO campaign here.

Hear their stories

LEARN MORE about the survivors featured in “I am Unbeatable.”


“Bengt was a very successful engineer and designer: a self-made man. Elisabeth, his stunning wife, mother of five, was the envy of everyone who knew them… When I first saw Bengt hit Elisabeth, I couldn’t believe my eyes.”


screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-12-04-43-am“It is the same old story about love and power and fear and pain, and it began the way it usually does: He wanted her. She was young, 13, and he, 18, was attracted to her vulnerability… He wove a fairytale for her, that she was The One, and together they could create a happily-ever-after.”


screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-12-13-07-am“Sitting with her and her mom and her older brother on the steps of a shelter in 1983, I saw evidence of terrible things. Vikki’s mother’s face was a road map of abuse.  I took their picture. As time passed, Vikki grew up in a haze of alcohol. She married an abuser just like her mom.”


screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-12-15-55-am“When Hedda met Joel Steinberg she had no doubt he was that man. A successful attorney, he charmed her and appeared to have endless love for her. This is the story: Hedda lost everything and her journey back to the land of the living made her an Unbeatable woman.”

To hear more survivor stories click here.

Follow Quanada and Donna Ferrato online via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

TCS NYC Marathon Spotlight: Erika Tullberg

TCS NYC Marathon runner and Sanctuary team-member Erika Tullberg shares why she’s running this year.

For seven years now, Sanctuary has organized NYC Marathon teams and each year we’re amazed by the commitment, strength and mental fortitude of our incredible runners. This year, we’re proud to say, is no exception! When our team member Erika first started running three years ago, she claims she “couldn’t run more than a block.” Next month, Erika will run 26.2 miles throughout NYC’s five boroughs in honor of the families Sanctuary serves and those who have generously given on her behalf.

Erika is nearly 85% of the way to her goal of $3,000. Help her raise the remainder by donating through her CrowdRise page today.

A New Year’s resolution

I started running three years ago, somewhat on a whim. It was just after New Year’s, I was feeling out of shape, and I knew that getting another gym membership that I probably wouldn’t use was not the solution. Running seemed appealing, because you can do it whenever or wherever you want – so despite the fact that I couldn’t run more than a block without stopping, I gave it a try.

My initial goal was to run a charity 5 kilometer run/walk that I had walked for several years.  Those early cold, dark January mornings I walked far more than ran. Gradually, however, the balance flipped and I was actually running, which amazed me!  I did my 5k, and then another; and another after that. That fall I did my first 10k.

Support made all the difference

The following spring I convinced a friend to train with me for a half marathon – it seemed like a good bucket list challenge.  The race ended up going horribly for me, but the bad taste it left just gave me incentive to try again. The following year I signed up a training group. Having that support made all the difference, and I ended up doing three more half marathons over the subsequent year.

Still, I didn’t think of myself as a runner and never thought I could do a marathon. I didn’t think I could stick with the training, especially during the heat and humidity of the summer, and more importantly, I didn’t think my injury-prone body could take the pounding. Several friends from my running group had qualified for the 2016 New York City Marathon, however, so I figured that if I was ever going to try it, now was the time to do it. I had people around me to help me through the process and I still had the option of running with one of the many charities affiliated with the marathon.

Running for Sanctuary

I put a lot of thought into what organization I wanted to run with. I have always worked in social services, and most of my work has been with children and families that have experienced maltreatment, violence, and other kinds of trauma. Through my work I was familiar with Sanctuary for Families, and knew that the money I would raise would provide concrete help to women and children who have experienced unspeakable trauma yet often remain marginalized and forgotten by society. Running for Sanctuary has also given me additional incentive when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel because people are now depending on me – both Sanctuary’s clients and the people who have so generously donated on my behalf.

One thing that running has taught me is that as hard as it is physically, the largest part of the struggle is mental – to keep running when every fiber of your being is telling you to stop. It seems hokey to say that it’s a great metaphor for life, but it is true. Sometimes you just have to focus on the next step, and if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you will eventually get to where you want to, need to, and can be. Sanctuary for Families helps people to do that every single day.

Unfortunately I’m still not one of those people who feels the “runner’s high” when they are running. What keeps me going is the support of my running friends and the satisfaction I know I will have once I am done. So when I make my way through the city to Central Park on November 6th, I will focus on getting through the next step – remembering all of the people I am running for, and hoping that the strength I have unexpectedly found in myself will help provide strength to others.

Donate through Erika’s CrowdRise page to help her meet her $3000 goal!

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Get Involved!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – check out our list of exciting ways you can get involved!

Did you know 1 in for 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime? In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’ve put together a list of exciting opportunities for you to get involved with. Join us in raising awareness and help us end domestic violence!


October 6th

NYC Go Purple Day – Wear purple and post photos with the hashtags #NYCGoPurple #DVAM2016. Be sure to tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @Sanctuary for Families (Facebook).

October 6th, 7th and 8th

Cracks of Light, part of Gibney Dance’s observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, bears witness to survivors of intimate partner and gender-based violence in a series of performance works created during the journey from struggle to survival. We are so proud that the evening includes a piece by Sanctuary clients, survivors who have emerged as advocates for social change, created in collaboration with members of Gibney Dance Company.

Each evening features a unique bill of performances as well as a reception and a post-performance discussion with performing artists and social justice advocate Rosaana Conforme (LMSW, MSEd), Sanctuary Clinical Director of Family Justice Centers in the Bronx and Manhattan. For more details and to purchase tickets, click here.

October 7th

Korean American Family Service Center’s (KAFSC) Silent March – march with KAFSC and Sanctuary at KAFSC’s 19th Annual Silent March. Meet up begins at 5:00 PM at 109th Precinct March begins at 5:30 PM and will conclude at Queens Library.

October 19th

Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards – Join us in honoring members of the legal community who have gone “above and beyond” by providing outstanding pro bono representation and advocacy to victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence.

For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, click here. Can’t make it? Purchase a raffle ticket and your name will be entered for a chance to win 2 tickets and backstage passes to Hamilton! the musical.

October 20th

NY State Shine a Light on Domestic Violence – Wear Purple Day – ‘Shine a light’ on the issue of domestic violence by turning your community purple. Wear the color, share photos on social media, illuminate your home or spread the word in your office.

Use the hashtags: #ShinetheLight, #WearPurpleNYS and #PurpleThursday and tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @Sanctuary for Families (Facebook).

October 27th

CLE: Abuse, Technology & Evidence in Cases of Gender-Based Violence: Using Technology, Proving Your Case
Advances in technology and the ubiquity of the internet (and its myriad social media sites) have created a new wave of abuse tactics employed by perpetrators of gender-based violence. It’s critical that attorneys and other legal staff representing victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking understand these issues and develop the skills necessary to successfully advocate for victims of cyber or electronic abuse.

The CLE will be take place on October 27th between 12:15-2:30 pm at Proskauer Rose, 11 Times Square (between 8th Ave and 41st Street).  Lunch will be provided. Please RSVP here.


We engage over 2,000 volunteers annually. Learn more about our diverse volunteer and internship opportunities by clicking here.


A donation of $50 can help provide healthy snacks for children and teen witnesses of domestic violence who attend our after school activities. Give today.

Our incredible team of TCS New York Marathon runners are raising money to support Sanctuary’s services. Help them out.

Attend our Above and Beyond Pro Bono Achievement awards or purchase raffle tickets for a chance to see Hamilton! the musical.

Speak out

Show your support for survivors of domestic violence. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues; share information through social media; let your representatives know that the silence surrounding domestic violence must end!

Tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @Sanctuary for Families (Facebook) and use the hashtags: #DVAM2016 #NoLoveInViolence#DomesticViolenceAwarenessMonth #EndDV

Spread the word, end the abuse.