Monday, January 3, 2011

Child Marriage Bill Fails in the House

Last week, the Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act failed in the House of Representatives. Given that the bill was supported by both Democrats and Republicans- and had passed unanimously in the Senate- the result was a disappointing surprise.

A 15-year old girl gets married in Pakistan.
Many from the poorest families are married
even younger.
If passed, the bill would have authorized the president to provide assistance to prevent child marriage in developing countries. It would have mandated that Obama's administration develop a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage, and integrated child marriage prevention programs in current development work. Additionally, forced marriage would have been included in the State Department's annual evaluation of countries' human rights practices.

What happened?
Prior to the vote, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sent a memo to the Republican Party whip objecting to the cost of the bill. Instead, she introduced her own version of the bill which she indicated would cost only $1 million. However, the bill fails to include procedures for implementing the legislation which critics claim would significantly limit its impact. (To read Representative Ros-Lehtinen's "Dear Colleague" letter, click here).

After this letter went out, hours before the original bill was voted on, an additional alert was sent to Republican representatives urging them to vote against the bill, stating that the bill may support funding for abortions. However, the bill did not contain any funding for abortions and federal funding for abortions is prohibited by law. After these two letters went out, many Senators rescinded their support of the bill.
Said an enraged Senator Durbin, the Senate Majority Whip who introduced the Child Marriage Bill,
"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... Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill."

What’s next?
While the bill failed this Congress, the efforts brought support from around the globe from individuals and organizations who remain committed to addressing child marriage. (Read this article by Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu, or this article about child marriage in Zambia.)

Plan remains committed to this issue and protecting the rights of girls and boys. Child marriage is a violation of children's basic rights to a safe childhood, education, good health, and the ability to make decisions about their own lives. Feel free to comment below about your reactions, and how you'd like to take action on the issue.


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