[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Legislation introduced by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) which seeks to end the destructive practice of child marriage overseas was passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, sending the measure to the full Senate for consideration. The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would require that the U.S. develop an integrated, strategic approach to reduce, and ultimately end, the practice of child marriage. The bill is co-sponsored by 32 other Senators, including Boxer (D-CA), Cardin (D-MD) Brown (R-MA) and Feinstein (D-CA).
“Tens of millions of women and girls around the world have lost their dignity, freedom, and health due to forced child marriage,” Senator Durbin said. “Not only does this despicable practice deny these women and girls an education and economic independence, it is also the root cause of many of the world’s most pressing development issues - HIV/AIDS, child mortality, and abject poverty. This bill makes it U.S. government policy to end child marriage around the globe, a policy which will change the lives of millions in some of the world’s forgotten places. I commend the committee for their passage of this important legislation, and I look forward to its considered by the full Senate in the near future.”
“The harmful practice of forced child marriage – which is often at the root of and exacerbates many of the problems the international community is working to prevent - has deprived vulnerable girls in developing countries of their human rights; denied girls of certain education and employment opportunities; significantly expanded the risk of maternal and infant death; and increased the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and AIDS,” said Senator Snowe. “I am grateful for the Senate’s support of these vital programs to prevent the incidence of child marriage last Congress and look forward to working with my colleagues in both the House and Senate to enact this legislation into law to maximize U.S. investment in these foreign assistance programs and protect the estimated 100 million girls in developing countries who are at risk of being married as children over the next decade.”
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 60 million girls in developing countries now ages 20 to 24 were married under the age of 18. The Population Council estimates that the number will increase by 100 million over the next decade if current trends continue.
Child marriage is often carried out through force or coercion. It deprives young girls – and sometimes boys - of their dignity and human rights. In some countries, it is not uncommon for girls as young as seven or eight years old to be married. These young victims are robbed of their childhoods.
In addition to denying tens of millions of women and girls their dignity, child marriage also endangers their health. Marriage at an early age puts girls at greater risk of dying as a result of childbirth. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death for women 15 to 19 years old in developing countries. Their children also face higher mortality rates.
The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would:
- Express the Sense of the Congress that child marriage in developing countries undermines U.S. investments in foreign assistance;
- Requires the President to establish a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage in developing countries and promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage in developing countries.
- Authorize the President to provide assistance to reduce child marriage. This new effort would complement and enhance existing programs designed to improve girls’ access to education and health care, raise community social awareness about child marriage, increase women’s economic opportunities, and prevent gender-based violence.
- Require the U.S. State Department to collect data on the prevalence of child marriage and its impact on meeting development goals, and describe the prevalence of child marriage in its annual Human Rights Report.
A similar bill was unanimously approved by the Senate in 2010; however, a small group of House members blocked the bill’s ultimate passage.