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North Carolina has become a sanctuary state for child predators. 

That’s the message from Buncombe County’s register of deeds. He’s drawing attention to the state’s high rates of child marriage, in hopes that lawmakers will raise the age of marriage from 14, in some cases, to the adult age of 18. 

One of Drew Reisinger’s primary duties is to sign off on marriage licences. And he says, it sometimes puts him in an uncomfortable position. 

 

“Consistently we’ve had young girls, more often than not, coming in, with people who are older than they are and there’s something that doesn’t feel right, and it hasn’t felt right for some time now,” Reisinger said.

 

Reisinger’s office partnered with the International Center for Research on Women and found 3,949 marriage license applications involving minors were filed in North Carolina, between 2000 and 2019. 93 percent of those applications were between an adult and a minor. 

 

“To some degree, there’s been an unwillingness from lawmakers to do anything about it, but now that the data is here and we can show North Carolina I think it’s an embarrassing stat that’s going to embarrass lawmakers to do something about it,” Reisinger said.  

 

And increasingly, those seeking marriage with a minor are traveling from out of state. Reisnger says 66 percent of marriages involving a minor in Buncombe County this year have been from out-of-state. We are becoming a destination for child marriage.

 

Last year, the register of deeds denied a marriage license to a 49-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl. They traveled from Kentucky because of North Carolina’s looser marriage laws. Sex outside of marriage would otherwise be considered a felony. 

 

“What we know is sometimes it’s not necessarily consensual,” Reisinger said. “If these girls are still kids and their brain hasn’t fully developed yet, there’s a lot of pressure on them.”

 

The ICRW says many survivors of child marriage say they were forced to marry their rapists in an attempt to shield them from prosecution.

 

The study shows North Carolina is the fourth highest state for incidents of child marriage.

 

In North Carolina, girls as young as 14 can obtain a marriage license under the so-called “pregnancy exception.” Girls aged 16 can get married with parental consent.

 

Reisinger is urging lawmakers to raise the marriage age in North Carolina to the adult age of 18, without exceptions.

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