Some people say the U.S. government should not try to regulate marriage. Some people say the U.S. government should not try to regulate the affairs of other countries. Well, both groups might want to take a look at a bill now before Congress that would allow the U.S. government to try to regulate marriage ... in other countries.
Co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2011 (S. 414), would authorize the President of the United States to provide financial assistance to developing countries to reduce their incidence of child marriage.
The bill defines "child marriage" as the marriage of a girl or boy who has not yet reached the minimum age for marriage according to the law in their country of residence, or 18 years of age in countries where there is no such law.
Declaring it to be the "sense of Congress" that child marriage is a human rights violation, the bill would make eliminating the practice an official goal of U.S. foreign policy.
That goal, according to the bill, would be achieved by helping developing countries expand their educational opportunities for girls, increase economic opportunities for women, reduce maternal and child mortality. All critical steps, contends the bill, to helping those countries achieve the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals and U.S. global health and development objectives, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
"Tens of millions of women and girls around the world have lost their dignity, freedom, and health due to forced child marriage," Sen. Durbin told the Senate. "Not only does this despicable practice deny these women and girls an education and economic independence, it is also the root cause of many of the world's most pressing development issues - HIV/AIDS, child mortality, and abject poverty."
The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act would also require the White House to establish a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage and promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage in developing countries.
"Child marriage is often carried out through force or coercion," noted Sen. Durbin in a press release. "It deprives young girls -- and sometimes boys -- of their dignity and human rights. In some countries, it is not uncommon for girls as young as seven or eight years old to be married. These young victims are robbed of their childhoods."
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementing the Preventing Child Marriage Act would cost about $23 million over the 2013-2017 period.
Note: In the United States, minimum legal marriageable age is determined by the individual states and is generally set at 18, except in Nebraska (19) and Mississippi (21). However, most states allow minors as young as 16 to marry with various forms of parental consent or under special circumstances.