Florida is stopping an embarrassing and ongoing family law problem: legal child marriages. There are more than 200,000 children married in the United States. Last week, a bill to ban the practice passed both houses of the Florida legislature, and has been converted into an act for the Governor to sign.

Florida’s Efforts to Ban Child Marriage

According to the Miami Herald, Florida is poised to put the country’s strictest ban on child marriage into law after a bill — with some narrow exceptions for 17-year-olds — was passed by state legislators Friday.

It is incredible to think that the marriage of children is technically legal in Florida.

Children aged 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with their parents’ consent, and even younger kids if there is a pregnancy.

But Senate Bill 140, which was passed by the House nearly unanimously, eliminates the pregnancy requirement and limits any marriage of minors to 17 years of age and only if they satisfy a series of requirements added by the Senate earlier in the week.

A bill to ban child marriages had been proposed for multiple years in the Legislature to close the loophole allowing minors to marry.

Florida Child Marriages

I’ve written about marriage and divorce before. Many people would be embarrassed to know that Florida actually allows child marriages. Previous efforts always failed, but this year was different.

Our statutes currently say that if anyone seeking a marriage license is under the age of 18, all that’s required is the written consent of the parents.

Even written consent isn’t required if the parent is deceased, or the child was previously married. The problem of child marriages is very concerning:

Between 70% and 80% of marriages involving individuals under age 18 end in divorce and getting married and later divorcing can more than double the likelihood of poverty.

Children are trapped, because they face many obstacles when they try to resist or escape marriages that adults forced into marriage don’t.

Unless a child is legally emancipated – given the rights of an adult – a child has very limited rights, leaving children trapped in a marriage with an adult.

This new Florida bill, if signed by the Governor, will finally end the status quo.

Sherry Johnson: Victim Turned Advocate

Lawmakers credited this year’s passage to six years of advocacy from Sherry Johnson, a child marriage victim who was raped, became pregnant, and was married to one of the men who assaulted her by age 11.

Johnson, who went on to have five more children in that marriage, said a ban on child marriage would have altered her future, even if it would not have prevented her abuse.

After she watched the House vote to send the legislation to the governor, advocate Sherry Johnson thanked bill sponsors Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, center, and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, outside the chamber doors.

Johnson said she was satisfied with the compromise, though she plans to advocate for similar legislation across the country — and possibly abroad.

My mission is for the world, for the children all over the world. It’s not just Florida. … It’s for the children everywhere.

The Miami Herald article is here.