Special to Iredell Free News

Companion bills to amend the lawful age to marry have been 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.

North Carolina and Alaska currently have the lowest age for marriage set by statute in the U.S., allowing children as young as 14 years old to marry, resulting in serious personal, intergenerational, and societal costs.

“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.”

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. Between 2000 and 2019, over 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.

Sen. Vickie Sawyer learned about this issue two years ago and decided to take action. She reached out to the Tahirih Justice Center, which has successfully worked to pass similar legislation in other states, about working together to introduce legislation to end child marriage in North Carolina.

“It pains me knowing that North Carolina is tied with Alaska for having the lowest age for marriage in the United States. This legislation will protect so many vulnerable children who are forced into marriages and subjected to the negative personal and societal repercussions that follow suit,” Sawyer said.

HB41/SB35 will 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.

The Tahirih Justice Center, a national leader in the fight to end violence against women and girls, and experts on forced and child marriage, is proud to partner with Laura Puryear from McGuireWoods Consulting LLC to support this bill and grateful to Sen. VSawyer (R-Iredell), Sen. Valerie Foushee (D-Orange), and Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson), as well as Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Rep. Brian Turner (D-Buncombe), Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Guilford), and Rep. Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus) for championing this crucial legislation in North Carolina.

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