An 11-year-old rape victim in Florida, a 14-year-old ninth-grader in Texas, a sexually abused 16-year-old in Kentucky. They are among thousands of girls forced to marry adult men in the past 50 years under laws permitting such unions in most U.S. states.
“This is not about me. I survived,” 58-year-old Sherry Johnson told CBS news when Florida passed a bill March 9 limiting marriage to those 17 and older. Raped at age 9 and a biological mother at age 10, she was 11 when her own birth mother forced her to marry a man in his 20s, simply by getting a judge’s approval.
Most U.S. states permit marriage before age 18 under certain circumstances, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in 2017, when 27 states had no age limits stipulating how young a child could marry. But a growing number of legislatures are changing the laws, helped by the advocacy of victims like Johnson who have survived their abuse, divorced their husbands and learned to thrive.
Christians should work to protect children from such abuses by teaching the truth of the value of women found in God’s word, said Terri Stovall, dean of Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“The days of the church sticking its head in the sand [are] long past,” Stovall told Baptist Press in written comments today (March 14). “Churches should embrace, reinforce, and actively teach the purpose and plan God intends for marriage reflected from His word.
“The church must vocally declare that marriage was created by God as a covenant between one man and one woman for the purpose of communicating the relationship between Him and His people,” she said. “From that foundation, the church can be engaged with its people and community to be aware of what is happening around them and to come to the defense and aid of those who are being harmed.”
Raleigh Sadler, a Southern Baptist who fights sex trafficking and human slavery, is among many freedom advocates who equate child marriage with sex trafficking.
“The [federal] Trafficking Victims Protection Act explains that if someone is engaging in sexual activity while being under the age of 18, federal prosecutors do not have to prove that they were manipulated into the act,” Sadler emailed BP March 13. “By virtue of their age, they have been trafficked.
“With that said, as you can see the child marriage discussion is linked to the human trafficking conversation. If someone is under 18, they can be under the coercive influence of another, whether this be a parent or a boyfriend,” said Sadler, who equips churches to fight sex trafficking through his New York-based ministry Let My People Go. “We as the church should be concerned with child marriage. This isn’t just something happening overseas but something happening in our communities, even in our churches.”
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Source: Baptist Press