Politics & Government

SC moves to repeal 1962 law that let hundreds of pregnant, underage girls marry

A 1962 law that allowed hundreds of pregnant, underage girls to marry older men is on its way to being repealed by the S.C. General Assembly.

The S.C. House unanimously passed a bill Thursday to end child marriages in South Carolina, two days after the state Senate unanimously did the same. Now, all that is left is for one of the two chambers to pass the other’s proposal and send it to Gov. Henry McMaster for the Columbia Republican’s signature.

Once passed, the proposal would cement the legal age to marry in South Carolina at 18, or 16 with a parent’s consent.

Previously, the 1962 law allowed girls of any age to marry the men who got them pregnant. Not wanting to have a baby out of wedlock for religious or cultural reasons, thousands of S.C. families have pushed their children to wed.

Nearly 7,000 underage girls have married older men over the past 20 years in South Carolina, according to an analysis by the Post and Courier of Charleston. About one of every seven was younger than 16. Some of their husbands were in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

Child brides are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty, endure medical and mental health problems, suffer abuse by their husbands and get divorced, the Columbia-based Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network told lawmakers debating the bill.

The proposal flew through the General Assembly, not once attracting opposition. Some lawmakers said they had no idea the pregnancy exemption existed.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
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