By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK, June 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New Jersey gave child advocates a boost on Friday as it became the second U.S. state to outlaw child marriage in as many months.
With Delaware in May passing the first U.S. law imposing a blanket ban on marriage for those under age 18, campaigners said a budding nationwide movement is gaining traction.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed the measure into law in Trenton, the state capital, calling it an "important human rights issue".
Previously, children in New Jersey as young as 16 could marry with parental consent, and those under 16 could marry with approval of a judge.
N.J. Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, the bill's main sponsor, said getting the law passed had been a "journey not without difficulties."
"We do everything to protect minors and to put them into a situation like marriage, it's just not the right thing to do," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Anti-child marriage campaigners say children married young tend to leave school early and are at increased risk of abuse. They have more health issues in pregnancy and childbirth and are poorer than those who marry at a later age, studies show.
Fraidy Reiss, founder of Unchained at Last, an advocacy group that lobbied for the bill's passage, said she hopes the move would have a ripple effect across the nation.
A similar bill is making its way in the Pennsylvania legislature, she said.
"It puts the pressure on legislators in other states," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Between 2000 and 2010, about 170,000 children under 18 were wed in 38 U.S. states where data was available, according to Unchained at Last.
New Jersey authorities said more than 3,600 minors had been married there between 1995 and 2015.
The new rule was opposed by some members of the Orthodox Jewish community, who sought exceptions to the law to accommodate traditions in which some teenagers get married.
Shia Markowitz, chief executive officer of Agudath Israel of America, which represents tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews, said the new law failed to respect religious diversity.
"You can't just go ahead and impose what is good for the general society across the board ... There's no rule that works for everybody," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Last year, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declined to sign a bill that would have outlawed child marriage, citing religious traditions.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst
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