In February 2021, North Carolina state lawmakers worked together to introduce House Bill 41 and Senate Bill 35. If passed, these bills would prevent anyone in North Carolina from marrying before the age of 18.
Casey Carter Swegmen, the Tahirih Justice Center’s Forced Marriage Initiative Project Manager, stated, “This bill would take North Carolina from being behind the national curve to a leadership position in the movement to end child marriage.” Currently, North Carolina is tied with Alaska for the youngest age for marriage at only 14. Children in NC can get married at 14 with a parent’s consent in cases of pregnancy, where one person is either pregnant or has already become a parent. The NC House and Senate bills aim to stop underage children falling prey to predators. The Tahirih Justice Center launched their Forced Marriage Initiative in 2011 “in response to the urgent need for services to help individuals fleeing and at risk of forced marriage in the United States.”
An article from The Charlotte Observer found that at least 3,949 marriage license applications involving 4,218 minors were filed from 2000-2019 across 50 of North Carolina’s 100 counties where data was voluntarily provided. These numbers are assumed to be similar in the 50 other unreported counties. The International Center for Research on Women concluded from this data that North Carolina may rank among the U.S.’s top 5 states with the highest rates of child marriage.
Through the current marriage law sanctions in NC, instances of intercourse with a minor that would usually qualify as statutory rape are legal. North Carolina law considers intercourse statutory rape when there is an age difference of four years or more between the two parties when one is younger than 15. In 57% of the reviewed cases of child marriage, this was the case.
Once House Bill 41 or Senate Bill 35 is passed, “any register of deeds who issues a license for the marriage of any two persons to which there is any lawful impediment, or where either of the persons is under the age of 18 years, without the consent required by law, shall forfeit and pay two hundred dollars ($200.00) to any parent, guardian, or other person standing in loco parentis, who sues for the same.”
By Rachel Van Horne, News Editor