Washington Outlook/Congress/White House

Lawmakers Try Again on Stop-Child-Marriage Bill

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A bill to help curb child marriage in foreign countries passed the Senate unanimously in December but ran afoul of House GOP members. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum plans to try again, with a vote that could come by May.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., plan to try again to pass a bill allocating money already set aside in the federal budget to help curb child marriage in foreign countries.

The bill they co-sponsored last year, alongside Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, passed the Senate unanimously, but ran aground in the House in December when it failed to win a two-thirds majority in a vote of 241 in favor, 166 opposed.

"We're going to continue to raise the profile of this issue," McCollum's Chief of Staff Bill Harper said in a recent phone interview. He estimated that a new measure would be ready for a new vote by May.

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Harper added that Republican extremists, along with a handful of extreme anti-abortion Democrats, killed the non-controversial bill in December.

"Whether it was for political, ideological or bogus fiscal reasons doesn't really matter," he said. "The result of their actions sends a message to the world that an extreme minority in the U.S. House can kill legislation to prevent 12-year-old girls from being forced into marriage and raped."

Harper said this time backers would do more to draw attention to the necessity of the bill and try to get the White House actively behind it.

The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act instructs the administration to devise and implement programs over the next five years to help developing countries reduce instances of forced marriage. The bill would funnel assistance to multilateral, nongovernmental and faith-based organizations that educate and empower young women and girls.

Impact of Pre-Vote Message

The House defeat last year was linked to a pre-vote message from GOP leadership--called a "whip alert"--stating the opposition of party leaders, including John Boehner, now the speaker of the House, and Eric Cantor the new House majority whip, according to The Washington Post coverage after the December vote. The alert insinuated that funding sent to nongovernmental organizations through the bill might be used to perform or promote abortions, The Washington Post reported.

Women's eNews scrutinized the bill, but found no mention of abortion.

UNICEF Communications Specialist Rebecca Fordham spoke in a recent phone interview about the importance of stopping the practice of child marriage.

"The critical fact is a girl who marries between the ages of 10 and 14 is five times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth compared with those who marry between ages 20 and 24," Fordham said. "Those (ages) 15 to 19 are twice as likely to die."

Girls who are forced or pressured into early marriage are more likely to drop out of school and often fall into a life of sexual subservience and isolation, she added.

"You're not developing as a child should be allowed to do," said Fordham.

More than 60 percent of women in Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Niger entered into marriage or such a union before their 18th birthday, according to surveys conducted by UNICEF between 1987 and 2006. Forced marriage is most common for girls living in the poorest 20 percent of households.

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What about child marriages in the USA and Canada? I understand that Warren Jeffs is out and in control of his polygamy empire again, with little change!

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. How can these young girls defend themselves? How can mature congressmen vote against such a bill?!