WASHINGTON — On Thursday, December 16, the House took up the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010. The bill would ensure that child marriage is recognized as a human rights violation, and develop comprehensive strategies to prevent such marriages around the world. The legislation seemed likely to garner strong bipartisan support in Congress, and in the Senate, it did. But last night, the bill was voted down in the House by Republicans who argued the bill is too costly and could lead to increased abortions — gripes the measure’s supporters say have no basis in reality and are just excuses to kill the popular bill.
The measure, introduced by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), passed the Senate by unanimous consent and attracted a list of 42 cosponsors, including Sens. David Vitter (R-La.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). It also had the support of nonpartisan groups like the YWCA. On Dec. 6, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, praising the United States for stepping up: “This act illustrates how support for securing a just and healthy life for every woman and girl transcends politics.”
The House version, introduced by Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), had 112 cosponsors. What’s interesting is that some of them — such as Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) — actually voted against the bill. In the end, only 12 Republicans backed the measure; nine Democrats defected to the GOP side. So what happened?
This week, a GOP whip alert went out about the child marriage legislation, saying that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Committee on Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) all oppose it. The email:
S. 987 authorizes $108 million over 5 years without sufficient oversight of the taxpayers’ money. According to the Congressional Research Service, there is no available, confirmed figure on how much taxpayer funding is already being used to fight child marriage in developing countries and this bill does not address that issue.In contrast, Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen has introduced H.R. 6521, which would result in no more than $1 million in potential costs, while making it clear that child marriage is a violation of human rights and that its prevention should be a goal of US foreign policy; requiring the creation of a multi-year strategy; requiring a comprehensive assessment of what the United States is already doing and funding in the effort to fight child marriage; and requiring that the practice of child marriage in other countries be reported each year as part of the annual Human Rights Report.
There are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws.
The prevalence of child marriage remains alarmingly high worldwide. As CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty and supporting the child marriage prevention bill notes, “More than 60 million girls ages 17 and younger — many as young as 10 — are forced into marriage in developing countries. Many of these girls are married to men more than twice their age. Not only does this unacceptable practice thwart a girl’s education, it endangers her health and often locks her into a life of poverty.”