At the 2017 TrustLaw Awards in London on September 28, White & Case was honored with the Impact Award for the Firm’s pro bono efforts to help end child marriage—marriages where either partner is under 18 years old—in the United States. The Impact Award recognizes "projects that demonstrate significant impact for an NGO or social enterprise, their community, and beyond," according to TrustLaw, the pro bono referral arm of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In partnership with TrustLaw and advocacy organization Unchained At Last, White & Case developed a legal memorandum "which provided the backbone for the non-profit’s campaign to gain legislative support for A3091, the first bill to end child marriage in New Jersey," according to a project profile published online by the Foundation.
"The pro bono lawyers examined existing New Jersey laws that relate to child marriage and identified gaps that would justify legal reform," the Foundation reported. "Issues addressed include emancipation rights, minors’ ability to access domestic violence shelters and initiate legal action, age of consent for sexual intercourse and the use of marriage as a defence against statutory rape claims."
"We are very pleased to support Unchained At Last in its effort to end child marriage in the US, where today it is a largely unacknowledged and shocking problem," said Jacquelyn MacLennan (Brussels), Global Pro Bono Practice Leader for White & Case. "This project encapsulates one of the main pillars of our Global Pro Bono Practice, which aims to advance the rule of law and good sovereign governance around the world."
Although the bill was passed by the New Jersey legislature, it was ultimately vetoed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Yet the broader impact of this work is clear. A New York bill that Unchained At Last helped to write and promote was passed in modified form shortly after the New Jersey veto. White & Case is now expanding its research for Unchained At Last to other states, including California, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Unchained At Last estimates that nearly a quarter of a million children—many girls in their early teens, or even younger—were married in the United States between 2000 and 2010.