S.987, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010, introduced by Sen. Dick Durban (D-IL) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. Praised by organizations such as PLAN International, CARE, and the International Women's Health Coalition, as well as global figures such as Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Irish president Mary Robinson, the legislation denounced child marriage as a human rights violation and would have made elimination of child marriage a U.S. foreign policy goal. S.987 would have authorized the president to provide assistance, through non-governmental and faith-based organizations, meant to prevent child marriage in developing countries and promote empowerment of girls and women.
Ending child marriage is a noble endeavor. Who could argue with this bill? Some House Republicans, apparently.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, the House bill, introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), failed to pass. The final house vote was 241 to 166, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The Huffington Post article states that a GOP whip alert claimed that the child marriage prevention legislation lacked "sufficient oversight of the taxpayers' money" and could direct funding to NGOs that support abortion. The whip alert insists that the measure could use child marriage prevention efforts to overturn anti-abortion laws. The kicker is that the House bill did not mention abortion.
In case any of this sounds familiar, some Religious Right voices opposed CEDAW as well because they claimed it would supposedly promote abortion too. Abortion seems to be a well-worn boogeyman that can be used to oppose legislation on women's rights.
Among the 166 representatives who voted against the child marriage prevention bill were Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). For an exhaustive list of which representatives voted "nay" on the bill, click here.
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen proposed an alternative bill, H.R. 6521, which focuses on "diplomatic initiatives" between the U.S. and developing countries. The fate of the bill remains to be seen.
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I'm stunned. Child marriage is a serious human rights violation, depriving girls of education, opportunities, and autonomy. Subjecting girls to early marriage also subjects them to sexual abuse at the hands of older husbands, early childbearing, and reproductive health problems. Doing whatever it takes to end this barbaric practice should be a foreign policy priority. Now, a promising tool for combating child marriage has been taken away.
Conservative politicians' antipathy toward abortion blinded them to the real good that S.987 could have done. When I hear conservatives claim that they want to "protect children", but then vote against child marriage prevention legislation, the hypocrisy sickens me. Let this be a reminder that misguided anti-abortion sentiments -- which the Religious Right encourages -- can have heartbreaking consequences in real life.
For additional commentary, visit these links.
Gaytheist Agenda: House Republicans Kill Child Marriage Prevention Act
Washington Post: Child Marriage Bill UPDATE
RH Reality Check: In "Shameful Act," Republicans Kill Bill to Prevent Child Marriage
Foreign Policy: How Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Killed the Bill to Prevent Forced Child Marriages
International Center for Research on Women: U.S. Legislators Reject Child Marriage Prevention Bill
ABC News: House Republicans Block Bill Aiming to Prevent Child Marriage
For more information on child marriage as a human rights violation, visit these links.
UNICEF: Child Marriage
The Elders: Child Marriage
CDC: Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa
Human Rights Watch: "We Have the Promises of the World": Women's Rights in Afghanistan
(See chapter five for information on child marriage in Afghanistan.)