Why Preventing Child Marriage Should Be a U.S. Foreign Policy Priority

A Conversation with
Rachel Vogelstein

On December 9, 2013, the IWHC Leadership Council hosted Rachel Vogelstein, author of the recently published Council on Foreign Relations report: Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives.

More than 50 Leadership Council members attended the event, where Vogelstein discussed how child marriage threatens the security and stability of countries that continue to practice it, and why ending early and forced marriage should be a priority for U.S. foreign policy.

Read more about this event.



IWHC Board Chair Marlene Hess opened the discussion with shocking statistics about child marriage, including the facts that 1 in 9 girls will be married before the age of 15, and complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of deaths for girls aged 15-19 where child marriage is prevalent. Hess stressed IWHC’s commitment to ending child marriage and noted its long track record of advocacy on the issue with the U.S. government, at the United Nations, and in countries where the problem is deeply persistent.

Following the opening remarks, IWHC President Françoise Girard and Vogelstein took the stage to address why ending child marriage is not only a moral imperative but also a priority for U.S. foreign policy. Vogelstein said that under President Obama, the U.S. government has recognized gender equality as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy, noting that countries that offer the same opportunities and choices to women as it does to men are more peaceful and prosperous. Because child marriage often robs a girl of her education and ability to determine her own future, it’s a major barrier to gender equality and economic prosperity.

Violence against women is another critical barrier to the security and stability of countries. Countries with active conflict zones or where violence against women is prevalent are also likely to have higher rates of child and forced marriage. As Vogelstein said, “the 25 countries with the highest rates of child marriage are fragile states or are at risk of natural disaster.” Both Vogelstein and Girard stressed that child marriage itself is a form of violence against women. Girls who are married before they are 18 are at much greater risk for marital rape and physical abuse inside a marriage.

Vogelstein commended IWHC in its successful advocacy efforts with the U.S. Congress on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was reauthorized earlier this year and specifically called for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop a comprehensive, multiyear strategy to end child marriage globally. Both Girard and Vogelstein noted this was a crucial step for the U.S. government toward recognizing child marriage as an endemic problem in the developing world. Girard said more advocacy needs to be done, however, and IWHC and its partners will continue to work with the State Department and USAID to make this strategy a reality.

After taking some questions from the audience, Girard closed the discussion with a question of her own: What does former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plan to do now that she’s left the administration? “I’m not breaking any news today,” Vogelstein replied with a laugh, saying she could only speak to the work Clinton will be doing in the foundation’s Women and Girls Programs. She gave the audience a brief overview of the foundation’s “No Ceilings” project, which looks at the progress made on women’s issues since the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, and will analyze what is left to be achieved and develop a new agenda for women and girls for the 21st century.

Read Vogelstein's recently published Council on Foreign Relations report: Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of Girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives.

The IWHC Leadership Council is a special group of women and men who share a broad interest in the U.S. foreign policy agenda and are committed to women's health and human rights globally. Learn more about the Leadership Council.