Protecting Girls from Underage Marriage

North Carolina law includes an antiquated ‘pregnancy exception’ which allows girls as young as 14 to be married. This is counter to the health and well-being of girls and women in numerous ways:

  • underage marriages due to pregnancy occur under emotional, financial, and physical stress at best and duress at worst;
  • science tells us that our brains are not fully developed until our early twenties, which carries implications for our decision-making and emotional processing;
  • young girls often enter into these relationships without an accurate understanding power dynamics and strategies available (or not available) to them to protect themselves; and
  • girls who marry early are more likely to remain financially dependent on others as a consequence of diminished educational and aspirational goals; and

North Carolina is one of few states where marriage younger than 18 is legal and has become a destination for people wishing to engage in such a union. In a number of cases the age difference between the girl and the man would classify their sexual relations as a felony outside of marriage. In many states, individuals under the age of eighteen cannot legally hire a lawyer, which leaves young girls and women little recourse to protect themselves, their child/ren, and their financial assets in unsafe and/or abusive situations.

Clubwomen have long been advocates for girls and women and your help is needed. What can you do? Learn more about the issue. Share information with others, especially clubwomen, and look for opportunities to make change happen.

The International Center for Research on Women is a resource of information on underage marriage. You can access an informative report here:

Visit the link for facts and recommendations. The two major recommendations are:

  1. Change the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 with no exceptions; and
  2. Remove section 51-2: “capacity to marry” from the NCGS – North Carolina General Statutes. This is the section that outlines provisions allowing 14-year-olds to marry.

In coming months there will be more information about how you can advocate for this important change to prevent underage marriage and give girls and women a better chance to grow into healthy, happy members of our community.

-Beth Lane, GFWC-NC Public Policy/Legislation Chairman



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