An American woman has described to the New York Times how she was forced to marry a man who raped her when she was just 11-years-old.
Sherry Johnson, from Florida, told interviewer Nicholas Kristof she was raped by both a minister and a parishioner at her conservative Pentecostal church. She fell pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl when she was just 10-years-old.
As child welfare authorities started investigating her case, Ms Johnson says her family and church officials organised her marriage to the 20-year-old perpetrator in order to avoid a criminal case.
“It was forced on me,” she said. “My mom asked me if I wanted to get married, and I said, ‘I don’t know, what is marriage, how do I act like a wife?’ She said, ‘Well, I guess you’re just going to get married.’”
Now an adult, Ms Johnson says life with her rapist husband was “terrible.” She missed out on school, and became pregnant many more times, giving birth to nine children.
“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 says, “so why allow someone to marry when they’re still so young?”
She is now taking part in a campaign to end to practice of child marriage, which continues to take place in several US states.
Campaign group Unchained at Last estimates that 248,000 children got married in the US between 2000 and 2010 – 85 per cent of them girls. Of those, 77 per cent married adult men.
Currently, underage marriage is permitted in every state, while 27 states have no age requirements at all, according to the times. Furthermore, Arkansas, Idaho, and Kentucky are the states in which underage marriage is most popular. Activist group Unchained, at Last, estimates that over 167,000 children under the age of 17 have been married in the U.S. Groups like Unchained, at Last, are currently working to stop child marriage in the U.S, by raising the legal married age from 14-17.