Around the world, young girls are being forced into marriage with significantly older men. Sometimes, these marriages are rooted in economic, cultural, or religious motivations. Other times, they stem from a man's desire to have socially-accepted sex with a child. However, a new Congressional bill would help fight child marriage around the world and ensure marriage is a choice for all girls and women. Child marriage is a serious human rights violation and often a form of human trafficking. For example, earlier this year, an 80-year-old man bought a 12-year-old girl from her family, married her, and then raped her with impunity. Afghan girls who flee from abusive forced marriage have been beaten when found. And a Yemini third-grader made headlines around the world when she asked for, and was granted, a divorce from her forced marriage at age 10. Some victims of child marriage have sought and been granted legal injunctions, but many more still suffer in silence. Fighting child marriage requires more than just legal reform; it requires changing cultural norms, educating girls, and empowering women, girls and families.
The proposed legislation (S.987), which goes by the rather clunky name the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, is a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Sen. Durbin and Sen. Snow. If passed, it would provide assistance to developing countries to prevent child marriage and promote the educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls and women. The legislation would be added to existing U.S. programs aimed at gender-based empowerment around the world. It would support community-based activities targeting cultural and religious beliefs and practices that encourage child marriage; enrolling girls in school; reducing education fees; nurturing "safe and supportive" environments for girls in school; ensuring access to health care and nutrition for teen girls; and supporting rights education programs for girls and families. Funding priority will be given to areas where 15% of girls under age 15 or 40% of girls under age 18 are married. The bill would also require the U.S. to report on child marriage in its annual human rights report.