Sherry Johnson

Sherry Johnson, Child Bride

Sherry Johnson, Child Bride, 2022, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 30″

1960 –

Eleven-year-old Sherry Johnson was forced to marry her rapist following giving birth to his child at age ten. The marriage allowed her molester, a church deacon, to escape legal punishment for his crime. Instead of having a childhood, Johnson had to care for the eventual six total children she bore him before she was able to leave the marriage at age 17, the soonest she legally could because of her age. When she was 19 she remarried and remained in that union for 26 years.

Because of her experience as a child bride, Johnson became an advocate for restrictions against child marriages in 2012. In her home state of Florida, her persistence got Florida law SB-140 passed in 2018. This law prohibits the county court from issuing a marriage license involving anyone under 18. The only exceptions are for 17-year-olds who are marrying someone no older than 19 and if the parents provide written consent.

Johnson continues to advocate for changing child bride laws in the remaining 38 states that still allow marriage to girls under 17. Of these states, 23 have a minimum age of 16 while 15 states allow parties younger than age 16 to be married. California is among just seven states, including New Mexico and Oklahoma that does not have a minimum age for marriage, where granting permission for a minor to marry or establish a domestic partnership is at the discretion of the court.