In a shameful political ploy at the expense of young girls, last night the House of Representatives voted against a bill that would help prevent child marriages worldwide. After unanimously clearing the U.S. Senate with 100% bipartisan support, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriages seemed on its way to be passed by the House and signed into law by the President. It will not become law this year.
The objection, led by House Republicans leaders, appears to have had nothing to do with substance – the thousands of lives that could have been positively impacted by enactment of the legislation – but everything to do with politics. Key Republicans drummed up opposition to the bill by concocting arguments about the high costs of implementation. However, the bill was actually an effort to make existing U.S. foreign assistance expenditures more effective. The bill would have targeted existing resources toward community-based efforts, like those of our partner APAD in Cameroun, which supports survivors of early and forced marriage to become economically independent. Importantly, the legislation would bring hope and opportunity to millions of girls who now face a life of poverty, violence, ill health, and possibly death as a result of being forced into marriage at an early age (including some as young as eight years old). The opposing Representatives also made false accusations that the legislation was a backhanded way to support pro-choice non-governmental organizations.
The Senate champion of the bill to end child marriage, Dick Durbin of Illinois, was stunned at the House defeat, stating the following:
“The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world. These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill.”
Having listened to the concerns of many of our partner organizations around the world, IWHC has been working to advocate for passage of this legislation for several years. We cannot say enough about the dedication of Sen. Dick Durbin and key staff, and of Rep. Betty McCollum and her dedicated staff. They “get it” – and gave it their all to have U.S. policy move forward to better the lives of millions of girls currently in extremely vulnerable situations.
We are also grateful to our many colleague organizations in this effort, most especially CARE and ICRW. In addition, the work of the Elders to shed light on this problem and its members highlighting the importance of passing this landmark legislation that would have supported real solutions for girls’ lives was instrumental and sincerely appreciated.
While the House of Representative may not be on the side of making meaningful change for girls living in places where being married at a very young age is a very real risk, we’ll keep looking for opportunities to end this blatant human rights violation.