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The Tahirih Justice Center, a national leader in the movement to end child marriage in the United States, hailed a milestone moment yesterday when Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed into law SB 48. The legislation, which goes into effect in July, puts in place one of the toughest laws on child marriage in the country.

The new law prohibits marriage under age 17 entirely. It contains a very narrow exception for a 17-year-old to marry a party no more than four years older, after a special judicial proceeding with numerous safeguards. Alongside the approval to marry, the court also simultaneously grants the 17-year-old the rights and status of an adult, to help her protect herself in case of abuse.

Kentucky previously had some of the laxest laws in the country, including a pregnancy exception for girls younger than age 16 and no bottom-line age floor for marriage. The state also ranked third highest in the country in the numbers of child marriages between 2000 and 2015.

Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Jeanne Smoot, issued the following statement upon the signing of Kentucky’s new law:

“The Tahirih Justice Center has been honored to partner from the beginning of this legislative journey with survivor advocate Donna Pollard. Her passion, dignity, and eloquence rallied diverse allies, encouraged other survivors to speak out, and moved the Kentucky Legislature to take swift action.

We are deeply grateful to Senator Julie Raque Adams for being such a strong champion and for galvanizing broad bipartisan support; to Senator Whitney Westerfield, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for his thoughtful stewardship of the bill through the amendment process; and to all the legislators who applauded Donna’s courage and called on their colleagues to honor it with their votes.

With this new law, Kentucky closes a dark chapter where abused, exploited, and disempowered girls could easily slip by judges and clerks undetected and unprotected from forced marriages.”

Tahirih is proud to have helped draft the bill and build support for its passage, and we greatly appreciated the endorsements of organizations including the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kentucky Youth Advocates, the National Association of Social Workers-Kentucky Chapter, and The Family Foundation of Kentucky.

This legislative achievement would also not have been possible without the dedication of considerable pro bono resources from the law firm of Frost Brown Todd and its government relations arm, CivicPoint. Tahirih is grateful for the firm’s generous support and keen strategic guidance.

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About the Tahirih Justice Center

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that aims to end violence against women and girls through direct services, policy advocacy, and training and education.

Through our specialized Forced Marriage Initiative (FMI), Tahirih is leading efforts at the state and federal levels to tackle forced marriage as a domestic problem impacting women and girls in the United States. Since launching the FMI in 2011, Tahirih has worked on over 500 forced marriage cases involving U.S. women and girls. For more information, visit or