Urge the United States House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and President Obama to pass the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S.414/H.R.6087).
What is the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act?
The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S.414/H.R.6087), sponsored by U.S. Senator Richard Durban (D-IL) and U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN 4), is a bill that would help protect girls in developing countries through the prevention of child marriage, and for other purposes. During the 111th session of congress the bill passed the U.S. Senate, but came up short of votes in the U.S. House. However, now the bill needs to get passed in the 112th session of congress.
What is Child Marriage?
Child marriage, defined as marriage before age 18, devastates the lives of girls, their families and their communities. In some countries, half of the girls are married before they turn 18. It is a harmful traditional practice that deprives girls of their dignity and human rights. In addition, child marriage as a traditional practice, as well as through coercion or force, is a violation of article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, `Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of intending spouses.'
According to Unicef, ‘child marriage' "is a violation of human rights whether it happens to a girl or a boy, but it represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls. Child marriage `treats young girls as property' and poses grave risks not only to women's basic rights but also their health, economic independence, education, and status in society.
The harmful traditional practice of child marriage is most common in poor, rural communities, and its consequences only perpetuate the cycle of poverty. More often than not, child brides are pulled out of school, depriving them of an education and meaningful work. They suffer health risks associated with early sexual activity and childbearing, leading to high rates of maternal and child mortality as well as sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. And they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and social isolation.
Everyday, as many as 25,000 young girls in the developing world are forced into marriage with adult men, some girls are as young as eight years old. Globally, an estimated 60 million girls in the developing world under the age of 18 are married, a figure that is estimated to increase by another 100 million over the next decade if present trends continue.
In 2005, the Department of State conducted a world-wide survey and found child marriage to be a concern in 64 out of 182 countries surveyed, with child marriage most common in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia.
Most countries with high rates of child marriage have a legally established minimum age of marriage, yet child marriage persists due to strong traditional norms and the failure to enforce existing laws.
Factors and Effects
Factors for child marriages in developing countries include poverty, a lack of educational or employment opportunities for girls, parental concerns to ensure sexual relations within marriage, the dowry system, and the perceived lack of value of girls. However, the implications of child marriage on girls, violates the human rights of girls by excluding them from decisions regarding the timing of marriage and choice of spouse.
Child marriage is most common in the world’s poorest countries and is often concentrated among the poorest households within those countries. This harmful traditional practice of child marriage is most common in poor, rural communities. It is closely linked with poverty and low levels of economic development. In families with limited resources, child marriage is often seen as a way to provide for their daughter’s future. But girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and remain poor, and its consequences only perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
In almost all developing countries, child marriage is more common among the poorest people than the wealthiest. Recent research 20 percent of households are three times as likely to be married as girls in the richest 20 percent of households.
Girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before 18 than girls in higher income households.
More than half of the girls in Bangladesh, Mali, Mozambique and Niger are married before age 18. In these same countries, more than 75 percent of people live on less than $2 a day.
Early marriage also jeopardizes girls' right to formal education, which ends upon marriage.
Girls may be married at young ages due to a lack of other alternatives, such as educational or economic opportunities, or girls may be pulled from school to be married. This deprives them of an education and meaningful work.
Child marriage is associated with lower levels of schooling for girls in every region of the world and is a barrier to international development goals. A lost opportunity for education is not only harmful for girls, but has wide-reaching repercussions for their children and communities.
Out-of-school or unschooled girls are at greater risk of child marriage while girls in school face pressure to withdraw from school when secondary school requires monetary costs, travel, or other social costs, including lack of lavatories and supplies for menstruating girls and increased risk of sexual violence.
After marriage, young girls’ access to formal and even non-formal education is severely limited because of domestic burdens, childbearing and social norms that view marriage and schooling as incompatible.
Child marriage also can result in bonded labor or enslavement, commercial sexual exploitation, and violence against the victims. And they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and social isolation.
Child marriage limits young girls’ skills, resources, knowledge, social support, mobility and autonomy. Young married girls have little power in relation to their husbands and in-laws. They are therefore extremely vulnerable to domestic violence, abuse and abandonment. Violence may include physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
International research has shown that married girls have few social connections, restricted mobility, limited control over resources and little or no power in their new households, and that domestic violence is common in child marriages.
Girls who marry early are more likely to believe that a more likely to believe that a beating his wife than women who marry later. Child brides often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.
In addition, girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later. A study conducted by International Center Research on Women in two states in India found that girls who were married before 18 were twice as likely to report being beaten, slapped or threatened by their husbands than girls who married later.
Finally, girls with low bargaining power in the household are more likely to experience violence by an intimate partner. Women with low levels of education and adolescents ages 15 to 19 are at higher risk of violence than better educated or older women.
An ICRW survey also revealed that girls who were married before 18 consistently reported being less able than young women married after 18 to talk to their husbands about the use of contraception, when they wanted to have children and how many children to have. When asked if they never, sometimes or usually participated in decisions about aspects of their lives, women who had married as girls were more likely than those who married later to respond “never.”
The severe negative physical, emotional, psychological, educational and sexual implications of child marriage on girls are well-documented. The health-related impact of early marriage and pregnancy, according to the United Nations, includes increased risks of HIV infection, death in labor, septic abortion, stillbirths, pregnancy-induced hypertension, puerperal sepsis and obstetric fistula.
Child marriage means early sexual activity and, in most cases, early childbearing. Despite widespread recognition that childbearing in the adolescent years is harmful to both mother and child, it is common in large parts of the developing world. In Chad, Guinea, Mali and Niger, where child marriage is prevalent, half of all girls give birth before their 18th birthday.
Girls are not physically suited for giving birth. When this is combined with a lack of power, information and access to services, married girls experience much higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity than women who give birth. Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19.
Adolescent childbirth is dangerous for the infant as well as the mother. The underdeveloped bodies of girls can lead to complications during childbirth and the death of the child. Infants born to adolescent mothers are much more likely to die than those born to women in their 20s.
Early childbearing can lead to serious health problems, such as obstetric fistula. Obstetric fistula results when a young mother’s vagina, bladder and/or rectum tear during childbirth, a condition that causes urine and feces leakage. It can occur when a young woman with underdeveloped physiology gives birth. Fistula patients are commonly poor women, ages 15 to 20, many of whom report early marriage.
Another serious health risk to adolescent married girls is HIV/AIDS infection. Growing evidence from sub-Saharan Africa shows that married girls in the region are at greater risk of HIV infection than sexually active, unmarried girls.
Existing research suggests that one reason why married girls may be more vulnerable to HIV is because they have little option to change their sexual behavior in response to knowledge about HIV. Young married girls can be at risk of contracting HIV and AIDS if their husbands are significantly older and therefore more likely to have contracted HIV or AIDS in their lifetime.
A large age difference between the spouses is particularly prevalent in polygamous unions, where adolescent girls can be the second or third wife of an older man. There is evidence that the earlier a girl marries, the more likely her husband is to be significantly older than her.
Though child marriage is entrenched in tradition and culture, change is possible. Very often, girls and their parents want to delay marriage but lack options. Governments and communities are actively working to discourage the practice by raising awareness of the adverse consequences for girls, running programs that provide girls with viable alternatives to marriage, and demanding more effective enforcement of existing laws that condemn child marriage. With the right mix of effective programs, policies and political will, millions of girls will have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
Investments in girls' schooling, creating safe community spaces for girls, and programs for skills building for out-of-school girls are all effective and demonstrated strategies for preventing child marriage and creating a pathway to empower girls by addressing conditions of poverty, low status, and norms that contribute to child marriage.
Educating adolescent girls has been a critical factor in increasing the age of marriage in a number of developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand.
Educating girls creates many positive outcomes for economic development and poverty reduction by improving a girl’s income-earning potential and socio-economic status.
For example, girls with higher levels of schooling are less likely to marry as children. In Mozambique, some 60 percent of girls with no education are married by 18, compared to 10 percent of girls with secondary schooling and less than one percent of girls with higher education.
Also, by expanding educational opportunities for girls, economic opportunities for women, and reducing maternal and child mortality are critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the global health and development objectives of the United States, including efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Finally, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), increasing the age at first birth for a woman will increase her chances of survival.
What will the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act do?
The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act will prevent child marriage by educating, protecting, and empowering young girls in the developing world. The act seeks to eliminate the harmful practice of child marriage overseas by requiring the U.S. government to develop an integrated, strategic approach to the prevention of child marriage. The legislation establishes a Trust Fund to Prevent Child Marriage, includes new funding authorization, and requires the State Department to address status of child marriage in countries with high rates of child marriage in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
Under the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act;
-child marriage prevention would be integrated into pre-existing development programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
-It would also require the White House to create a plan to combat child marriage and to provide assistance, including through multilateral, nongovernmental, and faith-based organizations, to prevent child marriage in developing countries and to promote the educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls and women.
-It would also direct the president of the United States, through the U.S. Secretary of State, to establish a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage in developing countries and to promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage.
-In addition the Department of State country reports would be required to report on human rights practices include a description of the status of child marriage for countries with specified rates of child marriage.
What can you do to get the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act passed?
Please write to and/or call your U.S. Representatives and Senators and President Obama tell them to pass the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (S.414/H.R.6087). Also ask your U.S. Representatives and Senators to co-sponsor the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act.
Also please sign the online petition below.