At the age of eleven, most of us don’t quite understand what sex is, though we may know its basic purpose; yet that’s the age author Sherry Johnson was married in Florida to a 20-year-old man who had raped her. As a child, a minister and parishioner at her church also raped her, and she became pregnant and gave birth at just ten years old. To avoid a rape investigation, her family and church officials decided to organize a wedding.
Ms. Johnson remembers her mom asking her if she wanted to get married when she was eleven. She did not know at that age what it meant to be married or how to act like a wife, but they were able to marry her off to the man, who was a member of her church, in Pinellas County. The marriage did not last, but she was stuck in the marriage for several years during which she could not work or drive (because she was too young to do either) and, instead of attending school, stayed home to birth and raise several more children — nine in all. Now fifty-seven years old and author of Forgiving the Unforgivable, Ms. Johnson is fighting to set a minimum marriage age in Florida.
Child Marriage Happens Right Here in the U.S.
Many people assume that child marriage is a foreign cultural practice which occurs in countries in the Far East or Africa, yet these marriages take place every day right here in the United States. Florida is one of twenty-seven states without a minimum marriage age. In just about every state, children under 18 can marry with parental consent, a judge’s approval, or both. In some states, children can marry at any age with only a judge’s approval so long as a pregnancy is involved. Florida is one of these states.
Legally, the Age of Consent in Florida is 18. In the U.S., the age of consent is the “minimum age at which an individual is considered legally old enough to consent to participation in sexual activity.” Regardless, over 167,000 children 17 and under married in 38 states between 2000 and 2010, according to a search of available marriage license data conducted by Unchained at Last, a nonprofit that seeks to ban child marriage. In most cases, adolescent or pre-adolescent girls marry adult men. Frequently, the parents — usually the mothers — force the marriage whether the child understands what they are getting into or not. The practice is commonly utilized as a loophole to avoid statutory rape charges. In that same time frame, 14,278 minors were married in Florida.
Senate Bill 140: Marriage Licenses
SB 140 aims to raise the ageat which residents can legally marry. It would require everyone seeking a marriage license to be at least eighteen years old. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, which is strongly supported by members of both political parties.
According to the founder of Unchained at Last, the bill would close the two loopholes that permit underage marriage. If the bill becomes law, marriage would be reserved for those who are mature enough and ready to enter a serious legal contract.
The state should certainly protect underage children from entering contracts like marriage which they are too young to comprehend; however, many instances of consensual sex between minors do prompt criminal investigations. If you are being investigated for wrongful sexual activity because your boyfriend or girlfriend is underage, you need to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer urgently to protect your reputation. Contact The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel by calling 561-622-5575 or reach out to us online. You will receive a free consultation with attorney Brian Gabriel, who has practiced criminal law for over 30 years.