RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is one of two states that allows children to get married as young as 14 years old.
A group of state lawmakers want to change that this year.
If passed, House Bill 41 and Senate Bill 35 would prevent anyone under the age of 18 from marrying.
State Sen. Vickie Sawyer, a Mooresville Republican, partnered with the Tahirih Justice Center to find a way to change North Carolina’s law and sponsored the bill in the Senate.
A Tahirih Justice Center news release sent Monday stated that North Carolina is tied with Alaska for having the lowest age of marriage set by statute in the United States. That’s a statistic Sawyer said in the news release pains her.
“This bill would take North Carolina from being behind the national curve to a leadership position in the movement to end child marriage,” said Casey Carter Swegman, the justice center’s Forced Marriage Initiative project manager. “The urgency is growing, as many of North Carolina’s neighboring states have already made progress against child marriage.”
State Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, said in the news release he is concerned that the state could become a regional destination for child marriages.
In North Carolina, 50 counties list 4,000 minors as married, the news release states. But that number is estimated to be closer to 10,000 if all 100 counties reported.
Of those married children, 93% married an adult, with 200 being married to someone 10 years or more older than the child, the justice center reports.
State law requires parental consent for minors to marry, and allows marriage for 14- and 15-year-olds with court approval in cases involving pregnancy or raising a child.
The news release blamed child marriages for causing some of the state’s cases of poverty, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Donna Pollard, who was married as a child and now is an opponent of the practice, said in the news release that changing the law would break that cycle and allow girls to develop into strong, independent women.