Ending Child Marriage in Florida

Grantee partner Unchained at Last‘s movement to end child marriage in America has spread to another state: Florida!

State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson last week introduced SB 140 to end all marriage before 18, and Rep. Daisy Baez has pre-filed a similar bill.

* The bill has been filed as HB 71 Child Marriage. JWF is part of the Florida Working Group to End Child Marriage that is supporting this legislation.

Currently, children as young as 16 can marry with judicial approval in Florida, and children OF ANY AGE can marry if they are pregnant or have a child.

Under these dangerous loopholes, more than 16,000 children as young as 13 were married in Florida between 2000 and 2015. More than 80% were girls wed to adult men, often with a significant age difference. In many cases, the age of the child or the spousal age difference constituted statutory rape under Florida law.

By not specifying a minimum age, Florida’s current laws on child marriage are similar to those in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. By allowing a pregnancy exception, something only nine states still do, Florida puts rape survivors at risk of being forced to marry their rapist – as happened to Florida native Sherry Johnson when she was only 11.

We at Unchained are working with a strong group of allies and legislators in Florida to eliminate these archaic loopholes and end child marriage in Florida.

Ending Child Marriage in America

Child marriage is a significant problem across America.

Right now, marriage before 18 is legal in all 50 states. Most states set 18 as the minimum age, but laws in every state, like in Florida, allow exceptions for those younger than 18 to marry. Laws in 25 states, including Florida, do not specify any minimum age.

Our groundbreaking research showed that in just the 38 states that track marriage-age data, more than 167,000 children as young as 10 were married between 2000 and 2010 – mostly girls wed to adult men. Based on this data, we estimate that nearly a quarter-million children were married in the U.S. in that decade.

This is an urgent problem for two main reasons. First, children can easily be forced into marriage or forced to stay in a marriage before they become legal adults, which happens at 18 in most states. Children face overwhelming legal and practical barriers if they try to leave home, access a shelter, retain an attorney or bring a legal action. The girls who reach out to us for help typically end up trying to kill themselves when they learn of their limited options.

Second, the lifelong impacts of marriage before 18 on girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and overall quality of life are devastating enough that the U.S. State Department considers marriage before 18 a human rights abuse.

We at Unchained started and now lead a growing national movement to end child marriage in America. We are working to draft, introduce and pass legislation to that effect, state by state.

To build support for legislation to end child marriage, we write op-eds in the Washington Post and other papers; host Chain-Ins to protest child marriage; give regular media interviews; and present at conferences and other venues.

We’re seeing progress. Bills like the ones in Florida that we’ve helped to write and/or are helping to pass, that would end or reduce child marriage, have been introduced in multiple states. So far, though, no state has passed a bill to end all marriage before 18, without exceptions.

Read the final bill here.

Thank You

Our work to end child marriage in America is made possible by generous supporters including:

Our determined allies in the push to end child marriage in Florida include: