Here in the United States,
we have the privilege of talking with young people about the changes
their bodies experience during puberty, and their choices about when
is the right time to have sex, marry and have children. For many
girls throughout the world, there is no conversation. For many
girls, the "right" time to have sex is when their parents marry
them off to a much older man.
A bold move by Representative
McCollum and Senators Durbin and Snowe provides the opportunity to change
this reality. Legislation to prevent child
marriage around the globe was just introduced
in both the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2103) and U.S. Senate
(S. 987) that will give parents another choice, and ultimately give
the girls who are married too young a choice and a chance.
"It is deeply troubling
that girls, little girls only nine or ten years old, are being given
as child brides to men sometimes decades older, putting these girls
at greater risk of contracting HIV, dying in childbirth, delivering
under-weight babies or living in extreme poverty," said US Representative
Betty McCollum (MN-4), in a media
by more than 20 organizations in support of the legislation. "The
U.S. invests billions of dollars to improve the lives of people in the
poorest countries. Child marriage is a horrific human rights violation
that undermines that investment."
The bills authorize U.S. foreign
assistance funding over five years to prevent child marriage and provide
educational and economic opportunities to girls in the developing world.
The policy would help ensure that the fundamental human rights of girls
are protected by:
- Promoting community
understanding of the practice’s harmful impact;
- Requiring the State
Department to report on this harmful practice in its annual Human Rights
- Scaling up community-based
efforts to offer viable alternatives to early marriage.
Child marriage is common in
many parts of the world, and if current patterns continue, during the
next 10 years more than 100 million girls will marry without any say
in the matter. Beyond being a fundamental human rights violation, early
and forced marriage increases girls’ vulnerability to serious health
risks (such as HIV), social isolation and poverty.
It takes strong women and strong
men to stand up for young girls. Congress now has the power to change
the lives of millions of girls, to help parents see a different reality
for their daughters, and to give these very young women back their future.