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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | March 26, 2018

On Friday, Florida joined the national movement to end child marriage when Governor Rick Scott signed into law SB 140, a bill that bans marriage entirely under age 17, and also prevents a 17-year-old from marrying someone more than two years older.

From 2000 to 2015, more than 16,000 minors were married in Florida, the second highest number of child marriages in the country in recent years. The Tahirih Justice Center, a national leader in the movement to end violence against women and girls, commends the Florida legislature for taking this major step forward. The new Florida law will bring about a swift decrease in child marriages in the state.

“Tahirih has been profoundly honored over the last several months to work closely with courageous child marriage survivor advocate Sherry Johnson, and to support the efforts of the bill’s lead champions, Senators Lizbeth Benaquisto, Wilton Simpson, and Lauren Book and Representatives Jeanette Nuñez and Frank White, to increase safeguards against forced marriages and other harms of child marriage,” said Jeanne Smoot, Tahirih’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy. “Their tireless dedication and passionate advocacy was crucial to achieving this result.”

With this new law in place, Florida will join only a handful of states that have an age floor of 17, and it is the only state thus far to so sharply limit the age differences of the parties. However, additional protections – such as providing for judicial oversight – are still possible, and Tahirih will continue to seek the strongest laws achievable around the country.

“This legislation marks the culmination of a years-long effort to raise public awareness and galvanize legislative change by Sherry Johnson,” continued Smoot.

“Her heartbreaking personal story demonstrated a stark and urgent need for reform and served as a rallying cry for advocates and lawmakers alike.”

In 2013, Johnson published a novel based on the horrific abuse and exploitation she suffered as a child, forced at age 11 to marry the 20-year-old man who had raped and impregnated her. She spent six years pressing to improve protections for Florida’s children.

Tahirih is incredibly grateful to have partnered with a pro bono team in Florida that included Gus Corbella, the Senior Director of Government Law and Policy at Greenberg Traurig-Tallahassee, and Ryan Wiggins, Owner and Chief Strategist at Full Contact Strategies, LLC. Both firms generously donated countless hours to increase public awareness of Florida’s serious child marriage problem and to amplify outreach and education to lawmakers about the urgent need for reforms.

Tahirih looks forward to continuing to partner with bold bipartisan sponsors, dedicated pro bono allies, broad-based coalitions, and inspiring survivor advocates in this historic campaign to end child marriage in the United States.

Please contact rebekahs@tahirih.org with requests for comment on this topic.

 

About the Tahirih Justice Center

The Tahirih Justice Center is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that aims to end violence against women and girls through direct services, policy advocacy, and training and education.

Through our specialized Forced Marriage Initiative (FMI), Tahirih is leading efforts at the state and federal levels to tackle forced marriage as a domestic problem impacting women and girls in the United States. Since launching the FMI in 2011, Tahirih has worked on over 500 forced marriage cases involving U.S. women and girls. For more information, visit tahirih.org or preventforcedmarriage.org.