On September 21, 2010, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a measure to eradicate child trafficking as well as comprehensive legislation to prevent forced marriage called the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, thanks to the advocacy and leadership of the internationally-successful CARE organization. This legislation now needs to be passed by the full Senate and full House when Congress returns from elections in November in order to be enacted into law.
From CARE's educational campaign about child marriage:
Not every marriage lasts forever, but early marriage has lifelong consequences for girls. By forcing a child into premature adulthood, early marriage thwarts her chances at education, endangers her health and cuts short her personal growth and development. Maternal health risks are particularly troubling as risk of death in pregnancy and delivery for girls under the age of 15 is five times higher than for women in their 20s. Taken together, the costs of this practice are too high to be ignored: Societies cannot progress when even the common practice of marriage dooms girls and women to a life of poverty.
In U.S. culture, we are often unaware of the severe consequences of this practice. According to UNICEF, 60 million girls -- aged 17 or younger -- in developing countries are married, many to men over twice their age. Girls who marry at young ages are at greater risk of a variety of health concerns including higher rates of maternal mortality, infant mortality, obstetric fistula, malnutrition, and HIV infection. Girls who marry at a young age often become pregnant before their bodies are fully developed, putting the girl at tremendous risk of complications, or death, during pregnancy and delivery.
Perhaps of greatest concern is the reality that girls who are at risk of child marriage often experience gender-based violence. When girls are regarded as little more than property to be transferred from one family to another through marriage, they are often violated physically and sexually by their soon-to-be husbands and family, especially to reduce the price they will pay for her. The commoditization of a woman's liberty -- particularly her sexual liberty -- is the utmost form of dehumanization and violation of her human rights.
In many developing nations, young women do not have opportunities -- particularly for their own economic success -- outside of their family structures. Thus, the family members who are responsible for young women can begin to see them as financial burdens instead of as people with individual rights, and they can view marriage of their female children as an opportunity for financial security for the entire family, especially in places where educational opportunities for women are limited.
CARE, one of the leading humanitarian and development organizations whose mission is to end global poverty through empowering women and girls, is doing work around the world to prevent child marriage. CARE is working with local communities, community leaders, families and girls to prevent child marriage in places like Ethiopia, Egypt, Nepal and Bangladesh through a variety of community-led interventions.
While the struggle for women's empowerment continues in the United States, we must do our part in the international community to protect girls by preventing child marriage. CARE and other key organizations are working to help pass the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2009. This important legislation not only recognizes child marriage as a human rights violation, but also develops a strategy to prevent child marriage and empower young girls. It integrates child marriage prevention approaches throughout U.S. foreign assistance programs and expands proven approaches that are helping to end this terrible practice.