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.

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!

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Keep and Protect Her Kids

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cahill Gordon & Reindel attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “ZN.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “ZN,” a young, immigrant mother of four children. The Cahill team, consisting of partner Joel Kurtzberg, and associates Sara Ortiz, Chloe Sauer (currently of Barclays), and Ben A. Schatz (currently of the Center for Appellate Litigation) helped ZN obtain a finding of neglect against her husband, full custody of her children, and an Order of Protection, including all of her children, against her husband.

sara-ortiz

Pro Bono Council Co-Chair Ben A. Schatz talks with Sara Ortiz about her experience working with Sanctuary on the ZN matter.

Ben: Tell us briefly about the work you and your team did on behalf of ZN.

Sara: ZN is a young immigrant mother of four who had suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband. She came to Sanctuary a few years ago after her husband lied to police to have her falsely arrested, only to find his plan backfiring, and resulting in a neglect case against him in Bronx Family Court.

Working with Dara Sheinfeld, Sanctuary’s Legal Director in the Bronx and Manhattan, we prepared ZN for a trial in the neglect matter in Bronx Family Court, and filed petitions for custody and an order of protection, to be heard simultaneously.

At an emotional hearing in the neglect matter, ZN and her oldest son testified about the extensive physical and emotional abuse her husband inflicted on the family. In July 2015, the court made a finding of neglect against ZN’s husband, and granted ZN full custody of her children and a full five-year order of protection for herself and her children. We also then assisted ZN in obtaining a favorable child support order against her husband. We’re continuing to advocate on ZN’s behalf in other pending legal matters.

Ben: Has working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case helped you grow as a lawyer?

Sara: Absolutely. My work at Cahill primarily focuses on long-term, large-scale commercial litigation matters and investigations.  Working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case as a junior associate has given me a great chance to take the lead on a completely different and incredibly important case.

Also, I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, Dara.  I could not ask for a better legal mentor.  Dara is a brilliant advocate, and made herself available day and night to answer any questions that came up during the case. Dara clearly loves her job, and working with her and with Sanctuary undoubtedly has made me a better advocate.  

Ben: Sanctuary takes a holistic approach to helping its clients. How did you and Sanctuary help ZN in ways outside the courtroom?

Sara: Sanctuary lawyers are always looking to support their clients in ways that extend beyond the clients’ immediate legal needs. Inspired by this approach, we referred ZN to our holiday Adopt-a-Family program, helped ZN obtain public assistance benefits, got her children signed up for free summer camp, and made sure she left each of our meetings with anything she needed to care for herself and her four children, whether it be food, clothing, or a MetroCard.

I also personally helped ZN become more comfortable taking public transportation by exchanging text messages with photographs of our respective locations to make finding each other near the subway easier.  ZN even gained the confidence to take the train alone from the Bronx to Manhattan.

Ben: How has Cahill supported your pro bono work with Sanctuary?

Sara: Cahill has been unwavering in its support of my work with Sanctuary. The Firm has a deep and longstanding relationship with Sanctuary, spearheaded by Joel Kurtzberg when he was an associate (that was nearly two decades ago—Joel is now a partner).

In addition to its pro bono efforts, the Firm sponsors holiday drives, collecting hundreds of gift cards for Sanctuary clients, and has hosted resume review and interviewing skills workshops for survivors of domestic violence enrolled in Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.  It’s a privilege to work at a Firm that enables me to pursue pro bono work I feel passionate about.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Cahill Gordon & Reindel’s outstanding pro bono work.  Learn more about the event here.  If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Coleen’s story: Finding opportunity in every difficulty

Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, overcame numerous challenges in order to complete the Economic Empowerment Program. Hear her story.

The following speech was delivered by Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Coleen’s story. 

What if I were selected to speak at graduation?

It gives me great pleasure to stand here before you and address all of the guests in attendance tonight and my graduating class. Before I proceed any further, I would like to seize this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to a few people who journeyed with me along this path.

The first person I would like to thank is Ms. Deborah Lee who afforded me the opportunity to participate in this empowering and uplifting program. To you, I will forever be grateful and indebted.

Secondly, the reason for me standing here delivering this charge, my classmates. Thank you all for selecting me!

Lastly, to the staff of the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) for doing an amazing job with the graduates.

When I was selected to speak on behalf of the class just a few days ago, I smiled and chuckled to myself before positively responding. You must be asking why? Why did I smile? The average person would have been terrified out of their wits if they were asked to do [something] similar.

Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.

An opportunity to do better for myself and my children

Today, I wish to bring a message of inspiration  a message of hope and a message of continued perseverance. My journey with E.E.P. has been a bitter-sweet one and I say bitter-sweet for [a few] reasons. Upon my acceptance into the program I was overwhelmed, excited and of course clueless as to what was ahead of me. With these mixed emotions I hurried home to share the good news with my children.

We discussed for hours how things would change knowing the program was five days a week, 9 am – 3 pm, leaving just a few hours for me to work at the beauty shop. Being a single mother of three and having to provide for two households was not an easy task. I worried [endlessly about] how I was going to adequately provide for my children.

In the face of these adversities I still went ahead and gave it a try. I saw this opportunity as one to do better for myself and my children. I saw it as an opportunity that would only come my way once.

At the commencement of the program I was told that I would be given a monthly metro card, a stipend to cover my expenses and free daily meals. This support really made it possible for me to do the program, and provide for my family! Through this assistance, I was able to get myself to class. Even with the assistance [though], I still needed income to cover rent and food and bills.

It was a huge struggle, and I started to second guess my move. I questioned if this program was the right thing to do. But, as the days of training went by, I started to see the long-term benefits of being a part of this program.

It struck me that I had been afforded an opportunity to elevate myself professionally and personally – how could I not seize my best chance at success? When I changed my perspective and attitude towards my situation everything slowly started to work.

I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally

Over the following few weeks I acquired computer skills, developed my business communication and literacy skills. I saw major improvements in my work life, my professional life and my personal life. I was completely transformed. It continued to be a lot of work, but [I had no doubts].

I thought to myself, what would have happened if I had passed up an opportunity like this? As the program progressed, I was privileged to visit so many professional places, meet so many people and most importantly create friendships that will last after the completion of this program.

Apart from this, internally, there were so many times I felt like giving up  so many times I doubted myself, so many times I broke down and cried. I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. There were days [when] I was so tired from waking up very early to prepare myself for school and [my] daughter for the sitter, making lunch for her and juggling through the rain and sun to get to both places on time.

Other days I was so tired from leaving work really late to head home to do home-work, study and my basic housekeeping. There were times I got frustrated and angry at myself when I couldn’t get a problem or exercise right but I toiled day and night until I got it right. I constantly kept these words with me, “God is with her and she will not fail” (Psalm 46:5).

Be Relentless

With hardly any sleep and a heart filled with determination, I was able to persevere, overcome my shortcomings and most importantly, stand here before you. Together these were the challenges of Coleen.

There is so much more I want to say but in the interest of time I’ll stop here. I’ll leave you with this message: be relentless! When faced with trials, be relentless – in the face of unpopularity, be relentless. In your darkest hours, be relentless! For “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I further charge you ladies today to be the optimist and be relentless in all your future undertakings!

Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this amazing program!

 

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.