A bill, already passed unanimously by the Florida Senate, would raise the minimum age at which a person can marry in Florida to 18 with no exceptions.
Under current law, there is no minimum age so long as there is “parental consent.” If pregnancy is proved, a 16-year-old can marry without parental involvement.
There is a great deal of research that outlines the outcomes for the young women, many of them girls, not even teenagers, who are pressured into marriages to much older men, some of whom have already abused or impregnated them against their will. None of the news is good.
Child marriage is linked to high rates of dropping out of high school, poverty, domestic violence and sex trafficking, along with mental and physical illness.
Girls who are forced into these marriages, often by their parents who are well-intentioned but naïve, are trapped in a cycle of poverty and misery. The Senate heard grueling testimony from Sherry Johnson, a fierce advocate for banning child marriage, who was herself married at the age of 11 to the man who raped her when she was 9. It is frequently the case that a young girl is tethered to her abuser by her well-meaning but misguided parents who, fearing for her reputation, make a tragic misjudgment.
As parents of adolescents know, the best strategy we have is often delay, delay, delay. On every subject from internet access to cellphones to offsite parties to dating to sex, the longer we can stave off the inevitable, the more mature our children are, the more tools they have at their disposal to deal with difficult situations, the better decisions they are likely to make.
And the law recognizes this as well. We don’t permit 12-year-olds to operate heavy machinery; we do not allow 16-year-olds to purchase tobacco. We should not permit Florida’s children, with or without parental involvement, to make life-altering decisions when we still consider them too young to vote.
The Senate bill is model legislation that could be heard around the country if enacted. We applaud Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto from Fort Myers for sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and Reps. Jeanette Nuñez from Miami and Frank White from Pensacola for co-sponsoring it in the House.
Women's Giving Alliance of Northeast Florida leaders Paula Liang, Jan Healy, Mary Pietan and Ellen A. Wiss.