Throughout South Carolina, there have been over 7,000 child brides in the last twenty years. According to state law established in 1962, the minimum age for marriage was 18 but 16 and 17 year olds are allowed to wed with parental permission. There is also no minimum age requirement for brides if she is pregnant or has given birth. This has led to girls as young as 12 or 13 being married off to men much older than them. Most of these marriages also meet criteria to be categorized as child rape. An adult in South Carolina could face felony charges for having sex with a minor, but also marry his pregnant victim with approval from her parents.
Countless activists across the state have stepped out in opposition to this law, including Carole Swiecicki, executive director of the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center in Charleston. “‘It’s like legalizing statutory rape,’ she said. ‘I actually had no idea this law existed…it’s a crime,’” (Swiecicki, Post and Courier). Joining the efforts was Senator Katrina Shealy, a Republican from Lexington, SC. Back in June, Shealy claimed she would do everything she could to change the system. Just last month, she filed a bill in the State House that would eliminate the opportunity for women of any age to get married in the state if they are pregnant.
The bill Senator Shealy filed, if signed into law, would be the first piece of legislation in the state of South Carolina that protects children from child marriages in almost 20 years. Shealy is expecting to have bipartisan support if the bill is pushed through. “Who thinks a 12-year-old ought to get married….I can’t even fathom that,” (Shealy, Post and Courier).
For more information about the child marriage statutes in South Carolina and the persistent group of people trying to rectify the situation, check out https://www.postandcourier.com/health/in-sc-pregnant-girls-as-young-as-can-marry-there/article_6a86577c-5cf9-11e8-a6f9-1fe34ede1b02.html and https://www.postandcourier.com/news/sc-lawmaker-files-bill-to-repeal-pregnancy-exception-for-child/article_6f98a6ac-fee3-11e8-8542-0fbcf71c25ad.html.