Thursday, January 3, 2019

Three pre-filed bills seek to curb S.C. child marriages

A loophole has allowed girls as young as 12 to enter marriage in S.C.

Posted by Adam Manno on Thu, Jan 3, 2019 at 6:37 AM

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State lawmakers from both chambers have introduced bills that aim to curb the existence of child brides in the state of South Carolina.

Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell from Lancaster, the former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, pre-filed H. 3268 on Dec. 18.

The bill would set a minimum age of 16 years old for teenagers seeking a marriage license due to pregnancy. A 1962 law that allows for marriage under 18 as long as the bride is pregnant has reportedly enabled thousands of child marriages.

As required by the existing law, both parties must still agree to marry, a licensed physician must still confirm the pregnancy in a report or certificate, and the parent or guardian of the female must also give consent for the marriage.

A different bill, also filed on Dec. 18 by Reps. Beth Bernstein of Richland County, Shannon Erickson of Beaufort, and Neal Collins of Pickens, seeks to altogether repeal the section of the state's code that allows teens to marry due to pregnancy (Section 20-1-300). A companion bill was filed by state Sens. Katrina Shealy of Lexington, Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, and Kevin Johnson of Clarendon on Dec. 12 in the S.C. Senate.

In the past 20 years, almost 7,000 underage girls have married older males in South Carolina, according to a June investigation by the Post & Courier. Though the age of consent in the state remains 16 (or 14 if consenting to sex with someone under 18), loopholes in the state's marriage laws, such as the one involving pregnancy, still allow young girls to marry older males, raising concerns about coercion and child sex abuse in cases where the groom is an adult male.

P&C reported that, when presented with state records showing a 2002 marriage between a 12-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, one of the bill's eventual sponsors, Sen. Shealy, vowed to fix the hole in the law.

According to the nonprofit Girls Not Brides, data from 2017 showed that over 248,000 children had been married in the United States between 2000 and 2010, mostly to adult men. Most states have exceptions allowing kids under 18 to marry.

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