Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Child marriage, abroad & at home

Pending in the U.S. House of Representatives is a bill to combat child marriage around world.
The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010 (S. 987) unanimously passed the Senate 11 days ago. The bill finds, inter alia:

Child marriage, also known as 'forced marriage' or 'early marriage', is a harmful traditional practice that deprives girls of their dignity and human rights.

Child marriage as a traditional practice, as well as through coercion or force, is a violation of article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, 'Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of intending spouses'.
Citing the frequency with which under-18 girls (girls in particular, though elsewhere the bill mentions boys, too) marry, in countries like "Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and Nepal," the bill would:
► Authorize the U.S. President to work with "multilateral, nongovernmental, and faith-based organizations" to develop a child-marriage-prevention strategy that includes "education, health, income generation, changing social norms, human rights, and democracy building"; and
► Require that information about the nature and prevalence of child marriage be included in the annual Country Reports published by the U.S. Department of State.
No word on when such legislation might be taken up in the House.
Movement in that direction received a notable boost last week, in a Washington Post op-ed published jointly by Mary Robinson (right), formerly the President of Ireland and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. Members of The Elders group established by former the South African President and Nobel Peace Prizewinner, the 2 wrote:

As members of an independent group of leaders who were asked by Nelson Mandela to use our influence to address major causes of human suffering, we have never been involved in supporting a specific piece of legislation before, but we believe that investing in efforts to prevent child marriage is critical to global development and the achievement of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. We applaud the Senate for passing this forward-looking legislation and urge the House of Representatives to follow suit.
Against the backdrop of these recent legislative efforts, an item discovered in the Library of Congress archives jumped out.
A captivating account of early 20th C. "women's editions" published by the mainstream U.S. press included the Louisville Courier-Journal clipping at left, entitled "Black List of States". Listed was the legal limit "at which fathers, brothers, and husbands have placed the age at which a little girl may consent to her ruin" -- that is, the age at which she could become a child bride in the United States.
In all but 3 states (Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming), the age was under 18.
The youngest age of legal consent?
7 years, in Delaware.
The date?
1895, just 53 years before adoption of the Universal Declaration to which the pending legislation refers.

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