Senate committee examines child marriage

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Legislation that would reign in child marriage across Kentucky was discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

Senate Bill 48 would prohibit anyone under the age of 17 from getting married. Another provision of SB 48 would require a district judge to approve the marriage of any 17-year-old.

While current law states 16- and 17-year-olds can be married with parental consent, a district judge can approve the marriage of a child below the age of 16 if the girl is pregnant.

About 11,000 cases of “young marriages” have been reported in Kentucky – with some as young as 13 years of age, said Jeanne Smoot of the Tahirih Justice Center, a national non-profit organization that offers legal services to women who have survived domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She testified before the committee that one of her biggest concerns was that it’s common for these marriages to be between a minor and an adult much older than the child.

Donna Pollard, who said she was 16 when she entered a marriage that resulted in domestic violence and sexual exploitation, joined Smoot to testify in support of SB 48. With her mother’s consent, Pollard said she agreed to marry a 30-year-old mental health technician that had been working at her behavioral health facility when she was a teenager.

“This should not have been a wedding,” she said. “This should have been a case of statutory rape.”

Smoot said the best way to prohibit vulnerable children from the consequences of marrying too young is to prohibit marriage before age 18 with no exceptions.

Although no vote was taken today, the bill may be heard again in the same committee.

“I’m optimistic that it’s not the last time we’re going to hear the bill,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said in his closing remarks.

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