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Prevent Child Marriages and Keep Kids Safe

Kids are kids. It is important to keep that perspective in mind when ensuring not only we are treating kids in a developmentally appropriate way, but also when considering how to keep children safe.

We are recognized as a legal adult on our 18th birthday and with that comes a lot of new opportunities and abilities. Before the age of 18, you cannot vote, establish a bank account, and enlist in the military. However, children as young as age 13 in Kentucky can get married—before they can ever vote or take out a loan.

Though some young people may be emotionally ready to marry, those under age 18 still lack the legal capacity to make decisions on their healthcare or finances, or to access services or treatments without adult consent. This is especially important when it comes to making medical decisions or leaving an abusive situation and going to a shelter or signing a lease.

Currently in Kentucky, a child can marry at ages 16 or 17 with a parent’s consent. A child under 16 can get married in the case of pregnancy with the permission of a district court judge.

Kentucky has the third highest number of children married in the nation. In Kentucky in recent years, the current marriage laws on the books have allowed 11,000 children to get married, and more than 90% of the time, minors married adults, not other minors. There was one case where a 13-year-old pregnant child was married to a 33-year-old man. In situations like this, a marriage could be used to hide sexual abuse. There are also stories like Donna Pollard’s, which she is sharing to help advocate for change.

Child marriage doubles down on the consequences of teen pregnancy. Girls who marry young face:

-Greater vulnerability to domestic and sexual violence;
-Increased medical and mental health problems;
-Increased high school drop-out rates;
-An increased risk of future poverty; and
-Up to 80% divorce rates.

Children are at a greater risk of vulnerability overall when married underage. Senate Bill 48 would ensure both parties are legal adults with rights and protections of adulthood.

We thank Senator Julie Raque Adams for sponsoring SB 48. We also thank Senator Whitney Westerfield, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee where the bill passed unanimously on March 6th. SB 48 passed out of the Kentucky Senate on March 7th and now heads to the Kentucky House. Track the progress of SB 48 on Kentucky Youth Advocates’ bill tracker.