FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Jan. 5, 2018
This week, Senator Julie Raque Adams (R – Jefferson County) filed SB 48, a bill to overhaul Kentucky’s lax minimum marriage age laws. The current laws have not been amended for 20 years and do not take into account U.S. research from the last decade that shows the devastating effects of early marriage on girls’ safety, welfare, and wellbeing and draws linkages with human trafficking and other abuse and exploitation.
The new bill will put in place thoughtful safeguards to prevent children from being forced into marriage against their will and protect them from other lifelong, irreparable harm. Senator Adams partnered with Donna Pollard, a Kentucky child marriage survivor and Founder of Survivors’ Corner, and the Tahirih Justice Center, a nationally-recognized leader in the fight to end violence against women and girls, on the drafting of this important legislation.
Kentucky has the third highest number of children married in the country, resulting in serious personal, intergenerational, and societal costs. Current laws set no bottom-line age floor below which a child cannot be married, pay no attention to the age or background of the intended spouse, and let 16- and 17-year-olds marry with a parent’s sign-off before a clerk. Few cases ever go before a judge. Judicial approval is required for pregnant girls under age 16 to marry, but judges are given no guidance, and there is wide inconsistency among courts. These laws have allowed 11,000 children to marry in recent years, some of whom were girls as young as 13 marrying much older men.
SB 48 would reform Kentucky’s current law by banning all marriage under age 17, requiring judicial approval of marriage petitions involving 17-year-olds, and putting in place meaningful, safety-centered criteria for judicial approval. A minor approved to marry would also be emancipated, or given the full legal rights of an adult, prior to marriage.
“The filing of SB 48 is a step on the path to victory for protecting our upcoming and future generations. I have been advocating passionately for this change in order to prevent other vulnerable girls from becoming trapped in a life of exploitation and abuse as I once was,” said Survivors’ Corner Founder Donna Pollard.
“If you want to prevent the cycles of poverty, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, this bill does that. And if you want to promote the empowerment of girls through education so they have the ability to support themselves instead of becoming perpetually dependent, this bill accomplishes that as well by providing the opportunity for young girls to develop into strong, independent women,” Pollard said.
Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, noted, “This bill would take Kentucky from behind the national curve to a leadership position in the movement to end child marriage. Most states have eliminated pregnancy exceptions like Kentucky’s, recognizing that a pregnancy can be a red flag that a girl has been raped, not a reason to green-light a marriage. Seventeen states, from Alabama to Nebraska, already have age floors of 16 or 17. New laws in Virginia, Texas, and New York limit marriage to legal adults, and bills are pending in several other states to ban all underage marriage. We’re grateful to Senator Adams for championing this important child protection cause and honored to partner with Donna Pollard and Survivors’ Corner to protect at-risk girls across Kentucky.”
SB 48 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and is expected to have a hearing in the coming weeks.
Donna Pollard, Founder of Survivors’ Corner, and Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at the Tahirih Justice Center, are available for comment on this topic. Please contact [email protected] to arrange an interview.
About Donna Pollard and Survivors’ Corner
Donna Pollard is a member of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Survivors’ Council and the founder of Survivors’ Corner. A survivor of child marriage and sexual exploitation, she is dedicated to raising community awareness of the impact of sexual trauma and promoting victims’ rights.
Louisville-based Survivors’ Corner hosts workshop-style support groups for survivors of sexual assault, abuse, and exploitation who have decided the time is right to share their personal stories of survival. Our goal is to provide a safe place for survivors to connect and share their stories openly as part of their healing journey. For more information, visit survivorscorner.org.
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. Our legal and policy expertise on child marriage is reflected in tools for advocates and lawmakers such as our comprehensive report on all 50 state’s minimum marriage age laws. For more information, visit tahirih.org or preventforcedmarriage.org.