A bill to stop child marriage in Kentucky is getting closer to becoming law.
Kentucky reportedly has the third-highest rate of child marriage in the US, behind Texas and Florida.
Tuesday, the state's Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed SB-48, also known as the "Child Bride Bill", which sets 18 as the legal age for marriage.
Supporters of the measure had been pressuring lawmakers to do what's right for kids.
Eileen Recktenwald, Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, once said the current law in the state 'legalized rape of children.'
"We are thrilled that a strong bill to protect children unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning," she said in an interview with CBN News.
A vote on a previous version of the bill had been delayed twice. Under that measure, girls 16 and under would have been allowed to marry if they were pregnant and a judge approved, which is the state's current law.
The new version bans marriage of anyone under 17, regardless of circumstances. Seventeen-year-olds can still marry with approval from a parent and a judge.
Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who co-sponsored the updated bill, took to Twitter after it passed committee.
"Let the noisemakers shout into the ether. Meanwhile, dedicated people were busy protecting kids in Frankfort today."
Let the noisemakers shout into the ether. Meanwhile, dedicated people were busy protecting kids in Frankfort today. Great work by @jrajra, @tahirihjustice, @KentuckyFamily and most of all @YourVoice_SC for courageously sharing your story to make a difference! #kyga18
— Whitney Westerfield (@KyWhitney) March 6, 2018
Meanwhile, UNICEF estimates that child marriages are on the decline globally.
According to the group, overall, the number of women who were married as children decreased by 15% in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to 1 in 5.
"When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences and a higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty," said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF's Principal Gender Advisor. "Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl's life, any reduction is welcome news, but we've got a long way to go."
The Tahirih Justice Center reports that from 2000 to 2015, there were more than 10,000 children married in Kentucky.
The "Child Bride Bill" now heads to the Senate floor and then to the House for a committee vote and, if passed, a full vote of the House.
"Our laws are catching up to the times," said Recktenwald. "Practices that were once the norm are being challenged because we know these things are not in the best interest of children and families. Survivors of these exploitative relationships are now bravely speaking up about the abuses they experienced and are fighting to protect children from going through what they suffered."