Child marriage and U.S. foreign policy: CFR releases new multimedia resource

Photo credit: Council on Foreign Relations

Every year, 5 million girls are married under the age of 15. What does it mean for girls, for their communities and the world at large? A new interactive InfoGuide on child marriage by The Council on Foreign Relations seeks to respond to these questions.

The InfoGuide, which complements a CFR report released earlier in 2013, “Ending Child Marriage: How Elevating the Status of girls Advances U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives”, provides a comprehensive overview on child marriage – its causes, consequences, and solutions – and its implications for the international community as well as US foreign policy objectives.

Child marriage is not a “soft” issue

“Child marriage is linked to poor health, curtailed education, violence, and instability, and perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty that is difficult to break,” says Rachel B. Vogelstein, CFR Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy.

Issues related to human security, issues like child marriage are simply not soft issues.

Donald Steinberg

“Issues related to human security, issues like child marriage are simply not soft issues,” continues Donald Steinberg, CEO of World Learning. “They are issues that can affect the stability of countries; they are issues that can affect the economic development of these countries.”

“They are every bit as dangerous as wars over natural resources, or wars that result from cultural differences”. He emphasised that ending child marriage was not only a moral responsibility for the global community, but also a foreign policy priority for the United States.

Who is a child?

Although international legal conventions define a child as someone who is less than 18 years of age, this definition has not always been the norm, even in now-developed countries.

“It was not so long ago in this country [the United States] that girls got married regularly as young teenagers,” explains Isobel Coleman, Director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative at CFR.

It was not so long ago in this country that girls got married regularly as young teenagers. But as we have industrialised, as we have become a wealthier nation, that age of maturity has gone higher and higher.

Isobel Coleman

“But as we have industrialised, as we have become a wealthier nation, and as the world is getting wealthier, that age of maturity has gone higher and higher.”

What, therefore, constitutes the basis to define a child?

Physical development and emotional maturity are important markers, but we cannot overlook “the ability to truly develop the skills one needs to assume the responsibilities of adulthood,” says Rachel Vogelstein.

Solving child marriage on the ground

Ending child marriage is a daunting task, but several strategies have proven successful in curbing the practice. The Council on Foreign Relations identifies the following approaches:

  • Expand access to education
  • Spread awareness
  • Offer incentives to families
  • Expand maternal and reproductive health services
  • Strengthen laws and enforcement mechanisms
  • Improve data collection
  • Raise diplomatic pressure

Crucially, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, an advocate from the Maasai Community who, herself, escaped child marriage, stresses: “You don’t just import and tell people what to do.

You don’t just import and tell people what to do. Everyone needs to get informed and let the decision come from them.

Nice Nailantei Leng’ete

You need to target cultural elders. We need to involve the young men because they are the future husbands of these girls. Everyone needs to get informed and let the decision come from them.”

Read the rest of the InfoGuide here.