(Raleigh, North Carolina)—On February 1, legislation to end child marriage in North Carolina was introduced in both the state House and Senate. The bills would raise the state’s minimum age of marriage to 18—with no exceptions—and eliminate existing loopholes that have allowed children as young as 14 to be wed.
“We applaud these bipartisan efforts to address this urgent issue,” said Lyric Thompson, Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at ICRW and a resident of North Carolina. “Prior to ICRW’s recent research, there was no publicly available information on the rates at which children in the state were marrying or to whom they were being wed. Our findings confirm not only that child marriage is still happening, but that thousands of children are still being legally married—overwhelmingly to adults and often in conflict with the state’s statutory rape laws.”
The analysis, released in August 2020, 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. An overwhelming majority of the marriage license applications collected—93 percent—were between an adult and a minor. Presuming similar rates of marriage license applications in the remaining 50 counties and extrapolating out by population, researchers estimated North Carolina among the top five states in the nation for highest prevalence of child marriage.
A complementary ICRW report on the prevalence and impact of child marriage across the United States shows that marrying early has universally detrimental effects over a range of outcomes. This includes a correlation with decreased educational attainment and earnings; an increased risk of physical, reproductive, and mental health issues; and greater experiences of violence and likelihood of divorce—particularly for girls.
“The call to do away with marriage below the age of 18 is consistent with findings from a growing body of evidence in the U.S.,” said Mara Steinhaus, Senior Research and Learning Specialist at WomenStrong International and one of the authors of the report. “Our synthesis of the literature shows that remaining unmarried under 18, even in the case of pregnancy, has better outcomes for teen mothers and their children.”
“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, a leading legal expert on child, early and forced marriage at the Tahirih Justice Center, which helped draft the bill. “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.”
- Report: Child Marriage in North Carolina: New Evidence and Policy Recommendations
- The News & Observer: An outdated NC law has allowed thousands of minors to marry. Change it to protect children. (By Lyric Thompson and Casey Carter Swegman)
- Citizen Times: NC is becoming a destination for child marriage. Help me stop it. (By Drew Reisinger, Buncombe County Register of Deeds)