BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — North Carolina is one of two states still allowing children as young as 14 to marry with parental consent (the other is Alaska).
But Monday, North Carolina representatives filed a bill that could change that.
House Bill 41 would raise the legal age to marry to 18, something child and family advocate, Treyanna Wilson said is well overdue. Wilson explained children don’t have the experience or maturity to make such a permanent decision.
“Just because that frontal cortex of our brain doesn’t come together until we’re 25,” said Wilson. “So up until then, you’re not necessarily making the best decisions generally speaking, just as a young person.”
According to the Tahirih Justice Center, 50 North Carolina counties list 4,000 children as married, 93 percent of which are married to adults.
Wilson was not surprised, saying, “Definitely we see kids being groomed if they’re being prepped to marry at 13, 14 years old.”
Studies have shown minors entering into a marriage with an adult are more prone to poverty, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse.
Karmen Smith is the executive director of Hope Harbor Home, a domestic violence shelter in Brunswick County. Smith observed when kids marrying adults, they can find themselves vulnerable.
“So you’re in a situation where it’s a relationship,” said Smith, “you’re in an equal partnership… but you have someone who is not allowed to have a bank account of their own. They’re not allowed to own a car. They’re not allowed to own property. And that’s what we see in domestic violence.”
Emancipated and therefore too old to receive much help from social services, yet too young to be allowed to stay in a domestic violence shelter without a parent or guardian.
Smith continued, “Essentially what we’re seeing is a legalized format of domestic violence. Which is terrifying. You’re allowing it to happen in one dynamic because, oh well, this person’s 14 years old and this person is older, so they have to own the property and they have to own the vehicles. But if that same thing is in an older relationship, it would be considered violent.”
Brunswick County Republican Representative, Frank Iler signed on to cosponsor this bill.
When we reached out to Iler for his perspective on the legislation, he reponded, “It’s bipartisan legislation that recognizes that children under the age of 18 are acutely vulnerable to abuse and coercion. I’m just glad to see that they did this. It’s one of those things where you know, it’s not your original idea, but when it comes up, it sounds like something needs to be done.”
This month is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention month, and according the Iler, the bill has already been assigned to the Committee on Families, Children and Aging, with a twin bill also continuing in the Senate.
Iler said this bill has a great deal of supportive from both political sides as well as many of the people they represent in the House.