Preventing child marriage may seem like the most non-partisan of non-partisan issues, but to Republicans scrambling to deny political victories to a lame-duck Democratic House, it seems to be yet another political football.
House Republicans are being criticized for "bringing shame to Capitol Hill" after voting against a bill to prevent child marriage in developing countries.
In voting against the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act last Thursday, Republicans said they could not abide by the cost of the bill and voiced fears that it would result in the US government supporting abortions for women in the developing world.
But the bill's supporters say there is no mention of abortion in the bill, and the bill itself -- which asks that the president focus on efforts to prevent child marriage -- requires no new funding.
They note that the bill sailed through the Senate unanimously earlier this month, before becoming the target of what they say is a smear campaign in the House.
According to the Washington Post's Conor Williams, trouble began Thursday when
In the hours before the vote, Republicans circulated a memo to pro-life members of Congress alleging that the bill could fund abortions and use child marriage 'to overturn pro-life laws.' It also reiterated concerns over the bill's cost. When it came time for a vote, a number of the bill's pro-life supporters in both parties abandoned ship. Even co-sponsors of the corresponding House bill (H.R. 2103), like Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), voted against it.
But, as TalkingPointsMemo's Rachel Slajda reports,
The text of the bill does not mention abortion, contraception or family planning. Instead, it directs the president to make preventing child marriage a priority, especially in countries where more than 40 percent of girls under the age of 18 are married. The ways to do that, according to the bill: support educating communities on the dangers and health effects of child marriage, keep young girls in school, support female mentoring programs and make sure girls have access to health care services.
It was reportedly the mention of "access to health care services" that spurred Republican fears of abortion funding.
The bill failed on a vote of 241 for to 166 against. Because House rules have been suspended in the frantic last-minute legislative session, the bill needed a two-thirds majority to succeed. The bill's future is "uncertain," the Post reports.
"The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), one of the bill's Senate sponsors, said in a statement. "These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill.”
Women's rights campaigners have been raising the alarm about the practice of child marriage, which is prevalent in parts of the Middle East, central Asia, India and to a lesser extent in other parts of the developing world.
According to UNICEF, there are 60 million women in the developing world aged 24 and under who were married before the age of 18, and that number is expected to rise to 100 million over the next decade.
"In addition to denying tens of millions of women and girls their dignity, child marriage also endangers their health," Durbin said in the statement. "Marriage at an early age puts girls at greater risk of dying as a result of childbirth. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death for women 15 to 19 years old in developing countries. Their children also face higher mortality rates."
In one now-famous case, an Afghani child bride who dared to run from her arranged marriage was horribly disfigured by her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law. Bibi Aisha, now 20 and living in Brooklyn, received a measure of justice earlier this month when her father-in-law was arrested.
In another widely reported case, an eight-year-old Saudi girl sued to annul her marriage to a 47-year-old man. Saudi Arabia's highest court refused to hear the case.