Earlier this month – just before International Women’s Day – the U.S. Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This in itself was a triumph. However, there was another victory won that warrants special attention: the legislation includes new, groundbreaking protections for young women and girls affected by child marriage.
This is a critical step in upholding the rights of adolescent girls around the world, and in shielding them from the harmful practice of child marriage, which often has devastating consequences for girls, their families and their communities.
Under the leadership of Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), who have consistently pushed for American leadership on this issue, provisions requiring the U.S. Secretary of State to author a national strategy to end child marriage were inserted to the VAWA reauthorization. ICRW and its partners in the Girls Not Brides USA coalition have advocated for the creation of such a strategy for years, and welcome the news that this important strategy will become a foreign policy reality for the United States.
If present trends continue, 142 million girls will marry over the next decade. That’s 38,000 girls married every day for the next 10 years. The costs of child marriage are high, not only for the girls themselves, but also for communities and societies as a whole. Because their bodies are not fully developed, child brides are at a very high risk of facing complications in pregnancy and childbirth – childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19. Young brides are more likely to experience gender-based violence, to drop out of school and to contract sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
These staggering statistics underscore the urgency of US action to end this debilitating practice. The provisions in the VAWA reauthorization are both a welcome and a necessary step forward in the quest to ensure that this is done.