RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina lawmakers proposed a bill designed to stop child marriages filed in the state.
North Carolina currently has the lowest age for marriage set by statute in the United States (tied with Alaska), allowing children as young as 14 years old to marry,
On Monday, companion bills to amend the lawful age to marry were introduced in both chambers of the North Carolina legislature to protect minors from the harms of child marriage by raising the state’s minimum marriage age to 18, without exceptions.
“This bill would take North Carolina from behind the national curve to a leadership position in the movement to end child marriage,” said Casey Carter Swegman, Forced Marriage Initiative Project Manager at the Tahirih Justice Center. “The urgency is growing, as many of North Carolina’s neighboring states have already made progress against child marriage. If we do not pass this law now, North Carolina will increasingly become a regional destination for child marriage.”
Lawmakers say the current laws have not been amended for 20 years and do not consider research from the last decade that shows the devastating effects of early marriage on girls’ safety, welfare, and wellbeing, and links child marriage with human trafficking and other abuse and exploitation.
Officials say that between 2000 and 2019, more than 4,000 minors were listed on marriage license applications in just 50 North Carolina counties, and researchers estimate that number to be close to 10,000 for the entire state. An alarming 93 percent of those minors married an adult, with over 200 minors marrying someone at least 10 years their senior.
“The filing of HB41/SB35 ‘Amend Lawful Age to Marry/18 Years of Age’ is a step on the path to protecting upcoming and future generations,” said Donna Pollard, Child Marriage Survivor Advocate and Founder of Survivors’ Corner. “I have been advocating passionately for this change to prevent other vulnerable girls from becoming trapped in a life of exploitation and abuse as I once was. If you want to prevent cycles of poverty, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, this bill does that by providing the opportunity for young girls to develop into strong, independent women.”
HB41/SB35 is introduced to ensure that all parties to a marriage are on equal legal footing and will protect children from the abuse and exploitation that can occur under the guise of marriage and the lifelong harm that often results from marrying underage, no matter the circumstances.