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“Child marriage: a global human rights tragedy” Senator Dick Durbin addresses the US Senate

In a passionate address to the United States Senate, Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat, Illinois), speaks of the urgency to commit financial and practical support to address child marriage.

Last month, the United States Senate unanimously passed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. Senator Durbin, one of the original proponents of the bill, underlined the pressing need to tackle the issue, citing a recent report in the Washington Post that the food crisis in Niger may have prompted an increase in child marriages.

A video of his speech and a full transcript follow.

“I arise today to discuss a disturbing article which most of us saw on the first page of the Washington Post. It’s entitled ‘In Niger, hunger crisis raises fear of more child marriages’. It was written by Sudarsan Raghavan.

The article highlights child marriages around the world, a human rights atrocity that steals the future, the health, and the lives of little girls and even boys in many developing countries. In many of these countries, girls are treated like chattel or commodities, sold into marriage with older men to settle debts or for dowries to help the family survive.

In Niger, the focus of the Post article, the famine is raising fears that more families will turn to that practice, marry off their little girls to gain economic security and even survival. Niger happens to already have the world’s highest prevalence of child marriage, with one out of two girls marrying before the age of 15, some as young as 7. Can you imagine?

Women, look around you. If you see another woman, know that in Niger one of you would have been married before you were 15 years old.

“That’s exactly what happened to Balki Souley. Balki was married at 12 years of age. And let me show this poster of her here.

She is now 14. She recently lost her first child during childbirth at age 14. She almost died herself. Her small body was just too frail to handle the difficulty of facing labour.

While Niger has the world’s highest rate of child marriage, it’s not the only place that this scourge occurs. It can be found all over the world, and most prevalently in Africa and Southern Asia.

Women, look around you. If you see another woman, know that in Niger one of you would have been married before you were 15 years old.

Senator Dick Durbin

Recently the Senate acted to ensure the United States government is adequately addressing this global human rights tragedy by passing the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. Senator Olympia Snowe (Republican, Maine) and I were joined by a bi-partisan group of 34 Senators in introducing this legislation. We’ve now passed this legislation in the Senate not once, but twice.

Unfortunately despite the bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate, the Republican leadership in the House refuses to act on this legislation. With every day that that failure in the house continues, more and more little girls around the world like Balki are forced into early marriage.

This means more girls in developing countries will lose their freedom, have their childhood innocence stolen and may in fact lose their lives. It means more young girls will be forced into sexual relationships with men two or three times their age. And it means more girls will suffer the devastating and often deadly health consequences that accompany forced child marriage, sexually transmitted disease, birth complications for the child and the mother. That’s not what America stands for.

I’m calling on Speaker Banner, Majority Leader Cantor, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to bring the bill to a vote in the House immediately. Read this article. Consider the photographs in The Post and other places. The lives of these girls in developing girls in developing countries across the world are literally in your hands.”

View the photos from the Washington Post on child marriage around the world.

Read our blog: US Senate passes legislation calling for action on child marriage. Why does it matter?