Failing to protect girls from child marriage

FAILING TO PROTECT GIRLS FROM CHILD MARRIAGE…. As Jodi Jacobson explained the other day, “An estimated 60 million girls in developing countries now ages 20 to 24 were married before they reached the age of 18. The Population Council estimates that the number will increase by 100 million over the next decade if current trends continue.” In many instances, girls are forced into marriage through force or coercion.

For about six years, policymakers in Washington have crafted efforts to use U.S. influence to combat this trend. The result is the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. In the Senate, where obstructionism and gridlock are the norm, the bill was approved unanimously. In the House, the bill enjoyed the support of 112 co-sponsors, and it was expected to pass easily.

But House Republicans, in the 11th hour, balked. The bill was on the suspension calendar, so it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. On the floor, it had 241 supporters (nearly all of them Democrats), and 166 opponents (nearly all of them Republicans), which meant the legislation died.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the lead champion of the bill, noted in a statement that the House vote “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. ”

How could this happen? The Washington Post‘s Conor Williams explains.

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. Even co-sponsors of the corresponding House bill (H.R. 2103), like Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), voted against it.

Time for the facts. First of all, S. 987 is short — the body of the bill is around ten pages long — and does not mention abortion (“family planning” isn’t in there either). A quick read suffices to show that the bill is not dealing with abortion.

Second, as I noted yesterday, it does not appropriate any additional funding. It requires that the President and the State Department make child marriage a core part of American international development strategy. One more time: this means that this bill can’t provide funding for abortion. It’s not an appropriations bill. Nonetheless, some Republicans appear determined to showcase their conservative credentials at all costs — even when the facts make it unnecessary, even when the world’s most vulnerable children bear the bill.

At this point, the bill’s future is uncertain, but the ongoing bizarre misrepresentation of a bill designed to empower young girls and women is the worst sort of political gamesmanship. Why play politics with their lives at stake?

It’s hardly possible to think even less of House Republicans lately, but this really is tragic. They made up ridiculous arguments, shamelessly lied to members, and needlessly exploited culture-war divisions to kill a bill that should have been a no-brainer.

What is wrong with these people?

Also note, this is the House GOP caucus now. Next month, the caucus will be bigger, more right-wing, and far more powerful. This is the party the country rewarded last month.