- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
In an incredibly disturbing New York Times op-ed, writer Nicholas Kristof tells the story of 11-year-old Sherry Johnson, who was raped, impregnated, and later forced to marry her rapist. What’s even worse, Sherry is just one of thousands of underage girls being forced into marriage in the U.S. every year.
It’s reported that Sherry was forced to marry a 20-year-old member of her family’s conservative Pentecostal church in Florida. And the scary thing is, many of these forced marriages are 100% legal. Because although the age of consent for marriage in most states is 18, there are a few exceptions — including parental consent, judicial approval, pregnancy, or any combination of these situations.
According to Kristof, children 16 and under are still being married in Florida at a rate of one every few days.
Other states with high numbers of child marriages were Arkansas, Idaho, and Kentucky. Kristof writes,
“In fact, more than 167,000 young people age 17 and under married in 38 states between 2000 and 2010, according to a search of available marriage license data by a group called Unchained at Last, which aims to ban child marriage. The search turned up cases of 12-year-old girls married in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina, while other states simply had categories of 14 and younger.”
Sherry (who escaped her marriage) is now campaigning for a state law to curb underage marriages, part of a nationwide movement to end child marriage in America.
“You can’t get a job, you can’t get a car, you can’t get a license, you can’t sign a lease,” she said, “so why allow someone to marry when they’re still so young?”
Sherry is not alone in her fight. When New Hampshire girl scout, Cassandra Levesque, learned that girls in her state could marry at 13, she too set out to challenge the law. However some legislatures were strongly against the change, reducing “Cassandra’s bill” to nothing more than a “Girl Scout project”.
“We’re asking the Legislature to repeal a law that’s been on the books for over a century, that’s been working without difficulty, on the basis of a request from a minor doing a Girl Scout project,” scoffed one state representative, David Bates. In March the Republican-led House voted to kill the bill, leaving the minimum age at 13. (So…it’s okay to marry girls Cassandra’s age, but not listen to them?!)
In closing, Kristof said even though the United States has denounced child marriage in other countries as a “human rights abuse that contributes to economic hardship,” there is still much work to do to fix the issues locally. He said, “Let’s listen to ourselves. State legislators must understand that child marriage is devastating in Niger and Afghanistan — and also in New York and Florida. It’s past time to end child marriage right here at home.”
And we couldn’t agree more, because it’s absolutely tragic that this is still happening.