In the last hours of the Indiana legislative session, HB 1006 (originally HB 1418) achieved final passage with near-unanimous, bicameral, bipartisan support. On March 18, 2020 we hailed a milestone moment when Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed the bill, which will overhaul the state’s child marriage laws and put in place several critical protections against forced marriage and other harm.
Some of these protections include:
- Limiting marriage to adults age 18 or older, with a narrow exception only for court-emancipated 16- and 17-year-olds who have received judicial approval;
- Eliminating pregnancy exceptions that can cover up rape;
- Appointing an attorney to serve as guardian ad litem for the minor;
- Restricting the age difference between a minor and an intended spouse to four years or less;
- Requiring a judge to deny the minor’s petition to marry if the intended spouse is or was in a position of authority or special trust with respect to the minor, has ever been enjoined by a protective order, has a violent criminal history, or for other concerns, such as finding that the minor is being coerced or that the marriage is not in the minor’s best interests;
- Vetting the maturity and capacity for self-sufficiency of the minor, independent of the minor’s parents or intended spouse, to help assure that she would have the ability to leave a violent home in case of abuse.
Tahirih is proud to have helped draft and advance this bill with lead sponsor Representative Karen Engleman, by offering expertise, testifying, and reaching out to legislators to urge their support, among other efforts. We are deeply grateful to Lindsay Lux— Vice President at Frost Brown Todd’s government relations subsidiary, CivicPoint — whose skillful and strategic guidance, dedicated pro bono to Tahirih, ensured the bill would cross the finish line in time.
Most of all, the result in Indiana is a tribute to the incredible survivors of child marriage who came to the Statehouse to testify and advocate — Genevieve Meyer, Donna Pollard, and Theresa Anderson. Their courageous leadership and compelling testimony moved the Indiana legislature to take action and united diverse allies in support of the bill.
In addition to survivor-led organizations (the Resiliency Foundation and Survivors’ Corner), the coalition that supported the bill included the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Kids’ Voice, the YWCA of Northeast Indiana, and the Family Law Section of the Indiana State Bar Association.
See our Child Marriage Survivor Story Compilation to learn more about the journeys of Genevieve Meyer and Donna Pollard.
The Broader Movement to End Child Marriage in the U.S.
Since Tahirih launched its national campaign to end child marriage in 2016, a total of 23 states have been inspired to raise their minimum marriage age or put in place other safeguards. Importantly, nine states now limit marriage to legal adults — Delaware and New Jersey (age 18+, no exceptions) and Virginia, Texas, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, and Indiana (age 18+, with varying limited exceptions for court-emancipated minors).
Based on outcomes observed in Virginia, Texas, and Kentucky, where there were dramatic drops in child marriage after strong reforms were implemented, we expect the new law in Indiana to reduce the number of minors who are married by 90 percent.
The new Indiana law, which also raised the age floor for marriage from 15 to 16, was joined last month by a new Idaho law that set an age floor of 16 and limited the age difference between a minor and an intended spouse to less than three years. These shifts in the national landscape are leaving holdout or “worst offender” states in an increasingly conspicuous minority:
- Now, only five states have a statutory exception that drops the minimum marriage age in case of pregnancy — Arkansas, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.
- Now, only five states have a statutory age floor younger than 16 — Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, and North Carolina — along with only eleven states that have no minimum age spelled out by statute.
Also in March, Tahirih Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Jeanne Smoot, was featured on a WUSA9 segment on efforts to end child marriage in Maryland. Survivor advocate Sasha Taylor traveled to Annapolis with Jeanne and other Tahirih staff to share her story, educate legislators on the devastating impacts of child marriage, and push for legal reform.
I still cannot believe I am writing a statement about laws that should not even exist. These laws need to change,
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned early, preventing the bill from advancing further at this time. This marked the fifth year that Tahirih has advocated for strong bills to curb child marriage in Maryland, but the state has yet to act. As neighboring states enact protective reforms, Maryland risks becoming a destination for the exploitation of children through marriage.
Many other state legislatures around the country have also adjourned, suspended or postponed their 2020 legislative sessions due to COVID. Yet Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative remains dedicated to pressing the pace and quality of legislative changes to end child marriage in states around the country.
Tahirih’s leadership in the national movement to end forced and child marriage continues along other dimensions, too. In times of social distancing and shelter-in-place, Tahirih is pivoting to provide free, remote trainings for advocates, service providers, and allied professionals across the country, including for court personnel and marriage officiants in states with new laws on child marriage.