PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's governor on Monday signed into law a bill meant to ban child marriage in the state.

Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee said the legislation eliminates language in state law allowing youths under the age of 18 to obtain a marriage license with parental consent. He said it's an effort to “protect children and prevent exploitation.”

Rhode Island law previously allowed 16-year-olds to marry with the permission of their parents or guardians, The Providence Journal reports. Younger children could also marry if the family court was notified and conducted a court hearing.

Unchained At Last, a national advocacy group that pushed for the legislation, said four other states have passed similar laws banning all marriage before the age of 18: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

The New Jersey-based group says some 171 children in Rhode Island entered into marriages between 2000 and 2018 and that 88% of them were girls wed to men. The group suggested many were likely forced into the unions by their parents without their consent.

Child marriages can also be used to cover up abuse or unwanted pregnancies or even for sex trafficking purposes, added state Rep. Julie Casimiro, a North Kingstown Democrat who sponsored the bill.

“Child marriages destroy girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and increases their risk of violence," she said.

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