Florida lawmakers are considering banning child marriage, a practice critics say has allowed rapists to avoid facing criminal charges by wedding their victims.

Under current law, children are permitted to marry with parental consent and approval by a county court. New legislation (SB 140/HB 335) would bar anyone under the age of 18 from entering into a marriage in Florida.

More than 16,000 marriages involving children have taken place in Florida since 2000. The majority were ‘Romeo and Juliet’ arrangements where a young couple close together in age tied the knot while one or the other was still a minor.

The story behind Sherry Johnson’s marriage in 1971, however, was much more complicated — and traumatic. At age 11, she was forced to marry a deacon in her family’s Tampa church.

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