While some girls have always dreamt about their wedding day, Sherry Johnson says she was forced into marriage before she even knew what it was.
Just 11 at the time, the Florida girl was allegedly forced to marry a 20-year-old from her Pentecostal church.
The wedding was seen as necessary after Sherry said she was raped by the churchgoer—and had fallen pregnant with his child. Her family and church saw marriage as the best way to avoid a criminal trial, The New York Times reports.
"My mom asked me if I wanted to get married, and I said, ‘I don’t know, what is marriage, how do I act like a wife?’” Sherry told the publication.
The child bride, now an adult, said she lead a “terrible life”. Over the course of her marriage, she reared nine children, all the while feeling abandoned by her husband.
Her marriage to the man from her church was approved by a judge who told her: “What we want is for you to get married.”
"They took the handcuffs from handcuffing him to handcuffing me, by marrying me without me knowing what I was doing," she explained.
According to The New York Times, underage marriage laws in Florida mean children aged 16 and under are still being married—one every few days.
Voice Of America reports that about 170,000 children were married between 2000 and 2010. Many of these were underage girls to men.
Sherry has since made it her crusade to fight for the state to set a minimum marriage age.
“You can’t get a job, you can’t get a car, you can’t get a license, you can’t sign a lease,” she said. “(S)o why allow someone to marry when they’re still so young?”
This article was first published on Marie Claire.