The consequences of child marriage
As I noted last month, child marriage is "an easy issue to forget. Child brides across the world have no lobby to maintain congressional and media attention." After the House failed to pass The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act in the lame duck session (it unanimously passed the Senate), child marriage virtually disappeared from media coverage.
Disappeared, that is, until yesterday, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought it up during her trip to Yemen. Clinton argued that the United States should combat extremism in Yemen by helping address its underlying causes. Echoing the position of NGOs like CARE, the International Center for Research on Women and The Elders, Clinton said that women's empowerment is a large part of building a strong, robust civil society. She emphasized that the practice of child marriage is a core challenge for any such effort.
Child marriage is a serious problem in Yemen -- more than a quarter of Yemeni girls are married before the age of 15, and fully half are married before their 18th birthday. Secretary Clinton's focus on the issue in Yemen highlights that this isn't just a human rights issue. Progress towards ending the practice of child marriage will help impoverished communities develop in countless ways. After all, girls who marry young are much less likely to attend school or take an active part in their community's economic life. This is especially tragic, since studies have shown that "When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared with only 30 to 40 percent for a man." Women's empowerment helps to combat global poverty and the extremism that stems from it. Addressing child marriage is a powerful lever for addressing long-term development and national security challenges.
Republicans, led by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), helped to kill last year's child marriage bill because of dubious concerns over its cost. They ought to reconsider. Consider the costs of fighting the symptoms of extremism -- more than a trillion dollars spent pursuing the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is short-term thinking, since it doesn't address the root causes of extremism. Investing in international development will be at the core of any long-term solution, and addressing child marriage is a perfect place to start.
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