Late last year, a 49-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl from Kentucky came into my office to request a marriage license. They had read online that North Carolina had the loosest laws in the South for child marriage. Their home state of Kentucky, like a growing number of states, had restricted marriage rights to legal adults in 2018. So, they came to us to get married.
Studies have shown that girls who get married before they become adults experience higher rates of domestic violence, food insecurity, and other negative health outcomes in their lifetime. When I realized that North Carolina is tied with Alaska as the two states that have set by statute the lowest age of marriage—14 years old in cases of pregnancy—I contacted the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) to request help compiling data to understand how much or little this was actually happening.
Until today, North Carolina was one of six states without publicly available data on how many people are marrying as children. For many who first find out that a 14-year-old can legally get married, they assume it’s simply an outdated law that is still on the books, and not a tool that continues to enable exploitation and abuse in the current day.
Read more here.