United States Congress Considers Bold Legislation to Combat Child Marriage
Thursday, May 14, 2009 12:55 PM

May 7, 2009—More than twenty leading organizations lauded the introduction of legislation in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives to prevent child marriage in developing countries.

“It is deeply troubling that girls, little girls only nine or ten years old, are being given as child brides to men sometimes decades older, putting these girls at greater risk of contracting HIV, dying in childbirth, delivering under-weight babies or living in extreme poverty,” said US Representative Betty McCollum (MN-4), the bill’s lead sponsor. “The U.S. invests billions of dollars to improve the lives of people in the poorest countries. Child marriage is a horrific human rights violation that undermines that investment.”

“The manner in which a country treats women and children says a lot about its cultural and societal values,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-IL.), who is the lead sponsor of the Senate’s bill along with lead Republican cosponsor Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME). “Young teenage girls who are forced to marry face serious health risks and are often far less educated than their unmarried peers,” Durbin continued. “This bill will bring this harmful practice to an end and give millions of girls around the globe hope for a better future.”

The bills authorize U.S. foreign assistance funding over five years to prevent child marriage and provide educational and economic opportunities to girls in the developing world. The policy would help ensure that the fundamental human rights of girls are protected by:

• Promoting community understanding of the practice’s harmful impact;

• Requiring the State Department to report on this harmful practice in its annual Human Rights Report; and

• Scaling-up community-based efforts to offer viable alternatives to early marriage.

Child marriage is common in many parts of the world. Some 60 million girls in the developing world are married and if current patterns continue, more than 100 million girls will be married during the next 10 years. Because their bodies are not yet fully developed, child brides run a very high risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Young brides are more likely to experience gender-based violence, and are highly vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, particularly when their husbands are older. Most are forced to leave school when they marry, which limits their future economic opportunities and contributes to an ongoing cycle of poverty.

More than 40 leading human rights, development and health organizations supported this legislation during the 110th Congress.


Published in: International Center for Research on Women News, 13 May 2009, http://www.icrw.org/html/news/pressreleases/2009/child-marriage-legislation-US-congress.pdf