By Lauren Eiten, NOW Field Intern
Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bipartisan bill compelling the United States to work toward preventing the practice of child marriage around the world. If senators feel enough pressure from the bill’s supporters, a floor vote in the full Senate could be scheduled soon.
The topic came to my attention this past summer when I read a National Geographic article entitled “Child Brides.” The article revealed that an estimated 10 to 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married annually in developing countries. In many regions, the practice is nationally outlawed but commonly practiced in towns and rural villages. Not only do early marriages limit girls’ access to education, but they also endanger their health. The leading cause of death for women 15 to 19 years old in developing countries is pregnancy and childbirth complications. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s.
Moreover, while rare, some young girls do die as a result of sexual intercourse. In the National Geographic article, the author discusses how a 13-year-old girl bled to death because her internal organs were ruptured during intercourse. Child brides also face a higher risk of contracting HIV, dropping out of school, and living the remainder of their lives in poverty.
We applaud Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) for introducing the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S.414) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, for taking leadership to move the bill out of committee. If enacted, this legislation would require that the U.S. develop an integrated, strategic approach through foreign aid and other policies to reduce, and ultimately end, the practice of child marriage S. 414 identifies child marriage as a human rights violation and urges the expansion of educational opportunities for girls and women, along with achieving the Millennium Development Goals for reducing maternal and child mortality and preventing HIV/AIDS, among other health and development goals. A similar bill, the Child Marriage Violates the Human Rights of Girls Act (H.R.3357), is pending in a House subcommittee, but will need many Republican co-sponsors and messages of support from activists in order to move forward.
Please take the time to contact your members of Congress, and urge them to take leadership on this important issue. The passage of this legislation is long overdue, and we hope more bills follow that seek to prevent the atrocities women and girls endure worldwide.