CHARLOTTE, NC – There is a renewed effort tonight to pass a bill in North Carolina that would raise the legal age of marriage to 16. Only Alaska and North Carolina allow children as young as 14 to be married, which is something legislators and activists are hoping to change.
“It’s common sense,” said Wake County Representative Joe John.
He says current marriage law in North Carolina creates a loophole for sexual predators and traffickers. Which is why he’s pushing to raise the age of legal marriage.
“It prevents these situations where we are being targeted by child traffickers and where individuals can escape prosecution when they prey upon minors,” said John.
Children as young as 14 and 15 can legally be married if they become pregnant. Children aged 16 and 17 can also be married with written parental permission.
“It’s time for North Carolina to do something about that situation,” said John.
An original version of Senate Bill 35 would have raised the minimum age to 18, but some Republican lawmakers objected to that. John says they cited their family history of relatives marrying as young teens.
“Folks were unwilling to put that aside and look at the bill going forward. They were in my view looking in the rear view mirror instead of out of the windshield,” said John.
“I think what we have on the books right now is really outdated,” said State Senator Jay Chaudhuri.
He says the current marriage age also creates confusion with the law.
“Allowing marriage at the age of 14 is actually contradictory to our statutory rape laws, which is 16,” said Chaudhuri.
“No matter the starting point we know that the impacts of child marriage can be devastating,” explained Casey Swegman.
National advocates are also leading an effort to change the law. Casey Swegman is with the Tahirih Justice Center in Washington. She says raising the age would be a good first step.
“If we can pass a bill that gets North Carolina one step closer to that goal, I will consider that progress,” said Swegman.
The bill is currently in a house committee. Swegman says they are confident there will be progress on the bill by the end of the year.