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.

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Three Levels of Action

Fordham said combating cultures of child marriage requires action on three levels.

  • Education offered through local communities, with the help of nongovernmental organizations that can assist in the development and empowerment of young women.
  • Cultivation of a strong labor industry that can provide a salary so that parents can keep their children in school longer.
  • A healthy welfare safety net that can reduce financial pressure on families in serious need.

These actions and conditions must be matched by legislation in countries where forced marriage is a problem, Fordham said, pointing to India's Right to Education Act. The law took effect April 1 of last year, making free, compulsory education a right to all children.

"It's that kind of legislation that will help bring an end to early marriage," Fordham said.

In the House, four members--Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, Ted Poe, R-Texas, Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Fred Upton, R-Mich.--voted against the U.S. bill after co-sponsoring it.

None returned calls for comment on their position change.

After the House failed to pass the bill, Durbin responded strongly.

"These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth," he said in a press statement issued after the House vote. "Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill."

No Impact on Direct Spending, Revenues

In October the Congressional Budget Office, which provides cost estimates for virtually every bill reported by Congressional committees, said the appropriation would not affect direct spending or revenues.

The bill's estimated $67 million cost over the course of five years would come out of an available $108 million appropriated by the State Department for use by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who chairs The House Committee on Foreign Affairs through which the measure passed, introduced her own child marriage bill before the vote that she said would only cost $1 million overall, The Washington Post reported.

She also proposed a study to find out exactly how much money is already being spent on child-marriage prevention programs as she felt the bill lacked congressional financial oversight, according to the same article.

Harper criticized Ros-Lehtinen's bill for providing no solution.

"It studies the problem, it doesn't do anything about the problem," he said. "We need a strategy and we need action."

McCollum attacked the arguments about abortion and financial oversight after the vote.

"Had this legislation contained abortion provisions or authorized new spending, it never would have unanimously passed the Senate," she said in a press statement.

The following day, Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, one of the 12 Republicans who voted for the measure, revisited the previous day's action.

"All of a sudden there was a fiscal argument," LaTourette told The Washington Post. "When that didn't work, people had to add an abortion element to it. This is a partisan place. I'm a Republican. I'm glad we beat their butt in the election, but there comes a time when enough is enough."


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Karsten Strauss is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

For more information:

"House Republicans Block Child Marriage Prevention Act," The Huffington Post:

"Who killed the bill to prevent forced child marriages," The Washington Post:

Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse, UNICEF:

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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?!