Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why Do Republicans Support Child Marriage?: Bill S. 987

Child marriage, also known as ‘forced marriage’ or ‘early marriage’, is a harmful traditional practice that deprives girls of their dignity and human rights. . .
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 60,000,000 girls in developing countries now ages 20 through 24 were married under the age of 18, and if present trends continue more than 100,000,000 more girls in developing countries will be married as children over the next decade, according to the Population Council. . .
Child marriage has negative effects on the health of girls, including significantly increased risk of maternal death and morbidity, infant mortality and morbidity, obstetric fistula, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. . .
It is the sense of Congress that--

(1) child marriage is a violation of human rights, and the prevention and elimination of child marriage should be a foreign policy goal of the United States;
(2) the practice of child marriage undermines United States investments in foreign assistance to promote education and skills building for girls, reduce maternal and child mortality, reduce maternal illness, halt the transmission of HIV/AIDS, prevent gender-based violence, and reduce poverty; and
(3) 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.
These passages were taken from Bill S. 987 titled "International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010." Before you start feeling all warm and fuzzy at the realization that the current Congress is doing at least something right, I need to tell you that this bill failed to pass in Congress:
Despite unanimously passing the Senate, it only garnered a 241-166 majority in the House. Since House rules were in suspension, the bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who sponsored the bill, had a blunt response in a late-night press release: "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. 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." His frustration makes sense: the corresponding House Bill had 112 co-sponsors!
What kind of an animal can possibly support child marriage, you might ask? Have the Republicans lost their last shreds of humanity? How does a politician justify sitting back and applauding this atrocity that destroys the lives of so many children? The frist two of these questions are, of course, rhetorical. We all know the answers to them. The last question, however, has an answer:
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.
S. 987 is not a long bill at all. I read it in its entirety and then conducted a specific search for the words "abortion", "family planning" and "contraception." These words are not mentioned in the bill. Not even once. Analyzing texts is what I do for a living, but for the life of me, I didn't find any textual evidence that even remotely links Bill S. 987 with abortion funding.

So the question remains: why are the Republicans so eager to defend child marriage? Are these the "family values" that they've been screeching about with the abandon of crazed parrots?

And I also have a small question for those who voted Republican in the last elections. Is this what you voted for? A simple "yes" or "no" will suffice. Something tells me, though, that no direct and honest answer is forthcoming.


Greenconsciousness said...

I first read about this at Ecnidne of the Snakes this morning:

I was so angry I could spit nails. If you put the number of the bill in your title the congress will be made aware you are blogging about it and that is important so please do that.They track blog opinions by the number in titles and your work may show. Here is what LaTda said on Widdershins blog.

"For blog owners, when you frontpage about the bill make sure you include the number of the bill: S2982. That is how they track who is writing about it. Let’s keep our blogs on their role over there and check out our allies and enemies blog post about the bill. That let’s the Fundies know who they are up against. They track bills this way too."

Keep an eye out in Jan for the I-VAWA. It passed in the house; got voted out of the senate foreign relations comittee last week and will go to the senate floor in Jan.

Clarissa said...

You are absolutely right, Greenconsciousness! I changed the post title. Thank you for the suggestion.

The post has already appeared at so I hope that it does get noticed. The Congress needs to see a lot of outrage against this insanity.

Denny said...

In New Hampshire, girls as young as 13 can legally marry with parental consent and waiver. In many other states, 14 is old enough if with the consent of a probate court judge.

I find it difficult to be incensed over the failure of a bill aimed at restricting child marriage in developing countries.

However, what does incense me is the idea that elected representatives are so lazy they don't read the bills they are voting on, but are stupid enough to fall for blatant lies.

Trying to be up beat about this, next time I want a bill to fail, I now know that all I have to do is fly up to D.C. with some signs claiming said bill supports abortion.

Clarissa said...

I had no idea this kind of barbarity existed in the US. Wow. I don't even know how to respond to this.

I agree with your outrage over using abortion as a manipulation tactic to defeat legislation.

Greenconsciousness said...

here is my question - is this bill only for women of other countries or would it also apply to the US?

I think it should apply here to clean up these backward state laws-do you know?

Denny said...

The other issue I have with laws banning child marriage, female genital mutilation, or the practice of sati is that they target the poor but fail to address the poverty and lack of education which promotes these practices.

To wit, no matter what country you are in, it is not the wealthy, educated parents who are marrying off their pre-adolescent or barely pubescent daughters. Nor are they the ones forcing their daughters to undergo genital mutilation. And it isn't the widows with means who are throwing themselves on funeral pyres either. These practices aren't even common in the middle class. Rather it is among the uneducated poor in politically/economically unstable areas where you find the phenomenon of children turned into economic resources and sold as brides (with a premium dowry paid for evidence of virginity) or as sexual slaves. The dilemma facing such parents is often sell 1 child to fed the remaining 5 or let all 6 starve along with you.

As long as you have poor people without an economic/social safety net and you have people with means above that level, you will never get rid of these deplorable practices regardless of how many laws you pass.

Clarissa said...

Denny: of course, you are right and just one bill in the US couldn't take care of the entire problem. Still, there are some provisions in the bill trying to address the roots of the problem. As I see it, the bill is not designed to be punitive towards the countries where such practices are prevalent, but rather to remove the roots of the problem. Here is a quote from the bill:

"support for activities to educate girls in primary and secondary school at the appropriate age and keeping them in age-appropriate grade levels through adolescence;

(3) support for activities to reduce education fees and enhance safe and supportive conditions in primary and secondary schools to meet the needs of girls, including--

(A) access to water and suitable hygiene facilities, including separate lavatories and latrines for girls;

(B) assignment of female teachers;

(C) safe routes to and from school; and

(D) eliminating sexual harassment and other forms of violence and coercion;

(4) support for activities that allow adolescent girls to access health care services and proper nutrition, which is essential to both their school performance and their economic productivity;

(5) assistance to train adolescent girls and their parents in financial literacy and access economic opportunities, including livelihood skills, savings, microfinance, and small-enterprise development"

I think these measures sound very good.

Clarissa said...

Greenconsciousness: the bill doesn't address specifically similar laws in the US. It specifies that it's only talking about "countries in which 40 percent or more of girls under the age of 18 are married are considered high-prevalence areas for child marriage." This is not applicable to the US, so I think the bill was very foreign policy oriented.

Denny said...

Thanks for the clarification, Clarissa. The measures you quoted are very sensible and deserving of support.

I've gotten very tired of reader commentary on these subjects which consist of sentiments such as "how can they do this to their children?! these people are worse than animals! we'd be better off if they're wiped off the face of the earth." I'm so happy not to find that kind of thing here.

Greenconsciousness said...

Thank you Clarissa -- it was very hypocritical bill wasn't it with the polygamous cults in Utah and Colorado --with the age of consent at 13 and 16 in many states in the union and 14 in Canada. When it comes around again let's make it better. Let's make it cover the US.

Lindsay said...

Yeah, that's too bad it wouldn't apply to the U.S. --- we might not have a big child-marriage problem as a country, but we have got some regions and subcultures (looking at you, FLDS!) where it's endemic.

Also, @Denny, you are right on about poverty contributing to these things, and from what I can tell the bill acknowledges this and includes reducing poverty as a way to prevent child marriage.

Tom Carter said...

If the only objection Republicans had to the bill was abortion concerns, then that's truly stupid. No other word for it. If the amount of funding involved was a major problem, that might be different, given that the bill won't make much difference.

Having worked for USAID in seven countries, including two in Africa, I can tell you this: A U.S. law that condemns child marriage is going to have little or no effect on that practice in primitive societies. Sixty years and many billions of dollars spent on development in Africa with little to show for it pretty much makes that point. It doesn't even work very well on FGM, something so much more cruel and harmful. So while passing laws like this might make you feel warm, fuzzy, and tingly all over, it doesn't make much difference.

As to laws in U.S. states that regulate the ages at which people can get married--is this yet another area in which the federal government should override the states and the will of the people in those states? If so, what's the "right" minimum age for marriage? Is it 12, 14, 16? The early ages seem much too young to me, but 16 doesn't seem unreasonable. But that's just my opinion, and I'm not sure that codifying my opinion in federal law is appropriate.

Clarissa said...

Tom Carter: why would anybody want to vote for a political party with such a defeatist position? Oh, it's too hard, it can't be done, it's not going to work, so why even try? Is that the official GOP position, in your opinion?

Greenconsciousness said...

There is a petition for people to sign if you want Congress to reconsider the bill.