An American girl was forced to marry her rapist when she was just 11 years old, because she had become pregnant.
Sherry Johnson is from Florida, a state in which where there is still no minimum age to marry. The man she was made to marry – her rapist – was 20 years old at the time.
Sherry told the New York Times that a number of other young girls her age at her conservative Pentecostal church were made to marry much older men – which she says was usually to hide rapes by church elders.
She said she herself was raped by both a minister and a parishioner, and gave birth to her first daughter when she was just 10 years old.
Marrying her rapist was one way for the community to end the investigation into the rapes. Even the judge approved the marriage in order to end the police probe, telling the young girl in court, ‘What we want is for you to get married’.
Now, as an adult woman, Sherry is calling for an end to child marriage in the US – which is still far too common.
‘It was a terrible life,’ she said, remembering her life raising children when she was just a child herself. She missed school, and ended up giving birth to nine children in total while her husband periodically abandoned her.
‘They took the handcuffs from handcuffing him to handcuff me, by marrying me without me knowing what I was doing,’ she said.
The facts: Child marriage in the USA
More than half of states in the US have no firm minimum age for marriage
In Florida, a child aged 16 and younger is forced to marry every few days
In 11 years, from the start of 2000 to the end of 2010, there were 34,793 child marriages in the state of Texas alone
In Florida, there were 14,278
In total, in that decade, there were 167,233 reported child marriages
The US has strongly denounced child marriage in other countries – with one State Department document calling it a ‘human rights abuse that contributes to economic hardship’.
However, it has yet to make strides in tackling child marriage closer to home.
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