Sherry Johnson was forced to marry the man who forced upon her at the age of 11 after she gave birth to his child, which allowed him, a church deacon, to escape legal punishment for his crime.
However, Johnson is just one of the 700 million women in the world who have been married as children.
She is a Florida native, and she has now made it her mission to ensure that no other children meet the same fate she did.
Johnson’s goal is to shed light on the issue of child marriage in the U.S., where marriage before the age of 18, depending on the circumstances, is permitted in all 50 states.
More than 167,000 children have been married before their 17th birthday in 38 states between 2000 and 2010, and nearly 10% of those children have been married in Florida.
Florida is one of 25 states where a child of any age can be married, given certain circumstances.
Her story if resilience and strength is below, as told to Global Citizen.
She said that there are many simple things she didn’t get the chance to do: she never played with dolls or made lives for them like many other children because she had a real doll. She had to feed her daughter real food, change her real diapers, and all of that while she was just 10.
She survived being forced upon aged 8 by the church bishop, and then by her mom’s husband. She was forced upon again when she was 9, this time by the church deacon, and she fell pregnant.
She gave birth to her daughter, alone, in Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, aged 10. She said that she didn’t even understand the process of what was happening with her own body, and it was devastating.
When authorities started investigating the case, she was forced to marry the church deacon to cover things up. Even though the age of marriage in Florida is 18, you can be married at any age if you’re pregnant or have a child.
So, instead of handcuffing him, they handcuffed her by putting her in a wedding dress.
She finally got a divorce aged 17, but not until she gave birth to five other children. Each time she got pregnant, she was taken out of school.
And, as she says, that really sums up her childhood.
She went back to school, but there are some things you just can’t regain. She constantly had to depend on others to make decisions for her, and even though she had adult responsibilities, she was not considered of the age of accountability to be responsible for her own life in the eyes of the law.
She had to depend on her parents and the church deacon to do them for her.
Even though it was a huge struggle, she wanted to be there for her children, and did the best she could with what she had at the time.
Even after she was able to get divorced, the cycle continued, and she married two more times, with similar men, living in similar situations.
Thankfully, she was able to forgive herself for what happened, and it has enabled her to move forward with her life and make sure that no other child has to face what she did.
Johnson knows how horrifying life in child marriage is firsthand, and that there’s nothing good or happy about it.
It’s not fair for a child to be put in such a situation where they can’t even protect themselves.
She has been working to close these legal loopholes in Florida and other parts of the US over the last few years, but she admits that it has been difficult.
She asked Cynthia Stafford, a Democratic House Rep. to present a bill to stop child marriage in 2013 and firmly set the minimum age at 18 – without exceptions. The bill passed unanimously in the House, but not in the Senate.
She has been knocking on senators doors and asking for the bill to be revised every year, but she says that some politicians don’t even believe that her story could be true. Many of them insist that the legal age of marriage in Florida is 18, and they don’t even know about the loopholes.
She it still fighting for this bill to be passed and hopes that one day a similar bill will be adopted across the nation.