McCollum calls for action on anti-child marriage bill

WASHINGTON — It has been a year and almost two months now since Rep. Betty McCollum introduced a bill aimed at preventing child marriage partially through the United States simply saying it exists.

If the bill is to pass this session, now is the time for it to move. And it’s no coincidence that McCollum and her allies have launched their biggest push yet to get it done.

“Beyond violating a girl’s most basic human rights, child marriage causes myriad negative educational, social and health consequences,” McCollum wrote in a joint op-ed with Rep. Ander Crenshaw that was published in Roll Call today. “The physical ramifications resulting from girls being forced to marry and engage in sex with adult men are obvious.”

Child brides are at a higher risk of domestic violence, sexually-transmitted diseases and, of course, pregnancy. In addition, McCollum and Crenshaw noted, the marriages undermine U.S. assistance in countries like Afghanistan and Yemen because married girls often miss out on U.S.-backed aid like schools.

“Young women and girls cannot attend a school built with U.S. assistance or access critical health information and services if she is married against her will,” they wrote.

Kakenya Ntaiya, a Kenyan Masai woman who is now studying in the United States, spoke at a Human Rights Commission hearing last week where she told lawmakers she was engaged at age five, pledged to be married at puberty and “constantly reminded” during her childhood “that my husband was waiting.”

Ntaiya was one of the lucky ones who was able to convince her parents that she needed be educated instead. She has now founded a girls school in her home village.

McCollum’s bill would require that the State Department’s annual human rights report note the prevalence of child marriage in a given country and would be coupled with a foreign policy strategy to work on eradicating it. So far, however, it hasn’t moved out of committee.

McCollum’s bill has attracted 103 cosponsors, including Keith Ellison, Jim Oberstar and Tim Walz. A Senate companion bill has been introduced, but hasn’t yet been moved in committee.

The letter, coupled with the hearing, are part of a push by McCollum and others to un-stick the legislation.

Part of that delay has been the clogged legislative calendar — the stimulus, cap-and-trade in the House, health care reform, Wall Street reform, things like that. With those now out of the way and the legislative calendar relatively open, McCollum and her allies have found a window in which to push hard for passage.

“Young girls and teenagers are not commodities to be sold or traded into marriage,” McCollum and Crenshaw wrote. “We can stop this practice and ensure that girls have the opportunity to develop, grow and contribute their skills to strengthening families, communities and entire countries.”

“Congress should act quickly to pass this legislation and give millions of girls worldwide a chance to be girls, not wives.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/19/2010 - 11:18 am.

    I may have been too harsh in my criticsism of Betty!’s reliable failure to respond to any of my concerns over the past ten years. Anyone can see she’s obviously got a pretty full plate.

    We constituents should take our piddly concerns down the road until Betty! gets this global crisis solved.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 07/19/2010 - 01:19 pm.

    What, precisely, is considered child marriage? The Roll Call link mentions 13 and 14 year old brides, but provides no specifics on the legislation.

    The text of the Senate bill defines it as any marriage of a person below the age permitted by the law of the nation in which the person lives. So, what exactly is it McCollum wants to do? Based on the text of the Senate bill, provide support for girls below that age in such areas as education, health and nutrition. Frankly, I fail to see what that will do to decrease the incidents of child marriage. Perhaps I’m a bit denser than usual today.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 07/19/2010 - 09:00 pm.

    Does Betty! know that this probably affects many of her constituents who have come here from Southeast Asia? I didn’t think that we, as a nation, were supposed to be the world police dictating what other cultures can and cannot do. Perhaps this is part of Hope and Change, I don’t know. If it can provide jobs here in the U.S. it might have some merit I guess.

  4. Submitted by Cecil North on 07/20/2010 - 02:17 pm.

    Reading this article, I found myself worrying about the plight of young girls forced into unwanted marriages and the attendant heartache and suffering.

    Thank goodness Tom Swift is here to remind us that everything is all about him. Heaven forbid that we should try to solve any other problem in our country until each and every one of Tom’s “piddly concerns” are resolved.

  5. Submitted by Brian Simon on 07/20/2010 - 03:54 pm.

    While this issue isn’t exactly on my radar, that is not to say it’s a pointless effort. As has been noted many times over the last 9 years, the wars we’re currently engaged in won’t be won overnight. As noted in the story above, “the [girls’] marriages undermine U.S. assistance in countries like Afghanistan and Yemen because married girls often miss out on U.S.-backed aid like schools.”

    Recently I’ve also seen news coverage that our armed forces have been consulting more with Greg Mortenson of the Central Asia Institute. His organization is focused on educating girls in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. Womens’ education rates have a strong correlation with political stability and democracy.

    So while it’s easy to criticize Rep McCollum’s effort as not creating jobs in the short run, perhaps it’s not the pointless effort it might appear at first blush.

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