FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Oct. 17, 2017
The Tahirih Justice Center, a nationally recognized leader in the fight to end violence against women and girls, today applauded the Florida Legislature for filing bills in both chambers to prohibit the issuance of a marriage license to any person under the age of 18. Senator Benacquisto filed SB 140 in the Florida Senate and Representatives Nuñez and White filed HB 335 in the Florida House. The bills are identical. A bill filed by Representative Baez, HB 71, would also ban marriage under age 18.
According to data pulled from the Florida Department of Health, over 16,000 children under age 18 in Florida were married from 2000 to 2015. In just the last 6 years across Florida, from 2010 to 2016, more than 3,000 children were married. Of those, dozens of children were married to a spouse at least twice their age, over 100 children were married to a spouse at least 10 years older, and over 400 were married to a spouse with whom, because of the ages and age differences of the parties involved, sex would be a crime outside of marriage.
“Allowing children to marry robs them of a childhood and forces them into mature situations for which they are not physically, emotionally, or financially prepared,” said Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at Tahirih.
“Once married, they can face abuse and find themselves trapped in a violent relationship for years without the resources or options an adult would have to escape. We are incredibly grateful to Senator Benacquisto and her Senate co-sponsors as well as Representatives Nuñez and White for joining together to tackle this problem and offering well thought out solutions to protect Florida’s children.”
This problem is statewide, but the top 10 counties where children have received marriage licenses since 2010 are as follows:
#1. Miami-Dade (392 children married; second highest percentage of those marrying spouses at least 10 years older)
#2. Hillsborough (245 children married)
#3. Polk (168 children married)
#4. Orange (161 children married)
#5. Palm Beach (144 children married; highest percentage of those marrying spouses at least 10 years older)
#6. Pinellas (131 children married
#7. Lee (106 children married)
#8. Broward (103 children married)
#9. Escambia (101 children married)
#10. Marion (85 children married)
Tahirih recently released a major report, Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America, that provides more information on child marriage in the United States and the need for legislation to close the loopholes that allow it to take place. The report can be found here.
Senator Benacquisto’s bill, SB 140, will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee next Tuesday, October 24.
Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, is available for comment on this topic. Please contact [email protected] to arrange an interview.