Last week, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced the Child Marriage Violates the Human Rights of Girls Act of 2011 (H.R. 3357). This follows Sen. Dick Durbin’s proposal from February (S. 414). Across the globe, 25,000 young girls are forced into marriage every day. These aren’t just young teenagers—in many cases, eight and nine year olds are forced down the aisle with men many, many times their age. Child brides are far more likely to contract debilitating and life-threatening sexually-transmitted diseases. They’re more likely to die in childbirth. They’re more likely to have their education ended early. They’re more likely to be abused by their husbands. They’re more likely to face widowhood and poverty. The ethics of child marriage aren’t difficult. It’s a horrifying practice.
You’ll perhaps remember that S. 987, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, was blocked by House Republicans last December—after unanimously passing the Senate. Though the bill appropriated no new funds—the GOP insisted that it would add to the nation’s debt. Though the bill included no mention of abortion, and was governed by the Helms Amendment (preventing any public funds from being used to perform abortions)—the GOP insisted that it could fund abortions. Just before the vote on the bill, they sent this text to their members:
There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws.
Once it became clear that S. 987 would come up for a vote in the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) proposed an alternative bill (H.R. 6521). This allowed opponents of S. 987 to maintain that they were also committed to addressing the problem. Not only did it promise to do nothing—it would only have commissioned a review of existing U.S. work on child marriage—it was never a credible alternative.
S. 987 failed, and the Republicans’ alternative died in committee. When the new Republican majority arrived in 2011, there was no action on child marriage. They were too busy opposing everything the President proposed. Again, understand the breakdown in logic (or honesty) here: if the the GOP really cared about addressing forced child marriage, they would have at least gone forth with their window-dressing alternative. But they don’t—so they didn’t.
In an effort to make obscuring tactics like these impossible, this year’s bill is even clearer that it is deficit and debt neutral. It would make use of already appropriated funds to address child marriage instead of other foreign aid priorities. This is there’s a growing consensus among the aid and development community that many of our international goals depend upon empowering women and girls.
Child marriage isn’t a partisan issue. Far from it. Much of last week’s coverage centered on the upcoming “Personhood Amendment” vote in Mississippi. Pro-life conservatives across the country have been cheering the chance to protect human life from the moment of conception. Perhaps it’s not too much to ask them to extend their concern from multi-cellular embryos to the lives of child brides?