Girls Not Brides USA welcomes the bipartisan re-introduction of the Keeping Girls in School Act in the House and Senate

Girls supported to attend school in the Dominican Republic by Mariposa DR Foundation. Photo: Girls Not Brides/Fran Afonso

Girls Not Brides USA, the U.S. national partnership of Girls Not Brides, is dedicated to ending child, early and forced marriage, and welcomes the bipartisan and bicameral re-introduction of the Keeping Girls in School Act.

Introduced on Tuesday, April 9th, by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Lois Frankel (D-FL), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), the Keeping Girls in School Act is designed to harness the power of the U.S. Government to get at the root causes keeping more than 130 million girls ages 6-17 globally from enrolling or attending school.

Keeping girls in school is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Recent research by the International Center for Research on Women and the World Bank showed that eliminating child marriage would save many governments five percent or more of their education budgets by 2030. In some countries, eliminating child marriage would reduce their reliance on overseas development assistance by as much as a sixth . Child marriage effectively ends childhood for the 12 million girls who are married each year, according to the latest UNICEF data, and is costing girls, and the world, too much.

In recognising that adolescent girls face enormous barriers to accessing secondary education, including child marriage, the Keeping Girls in School Act will help the U.S. Government address these barriers through smart investments and coordination between U.S. Government agencies. The bill is designed to complement existing guidance and legislation on education and child marriage in U.S. foreign policy and programmatic efforts, such as the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

As organisations focused on multidimensional solutions to ending child marriage and addressing the needs of already married girls, we recognise that access to quality education is one of the best ways to delay age of marriage and to best equip girls for their futures. In fact, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, 66% of girls with no education become child brides, versus 13% of those with secondary or higher education. The bill’s support for the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls recognises that efforts to keep girls in school and overcome barriers to their education requires us to look at girls’ lives holistically, with attention to rights, quality of education, health, safety, and harmful practices such as child marriage. The Keeping Girls in School Act not only helps ensure girls can access education, as is their right, but also helps equip them with the tools and environmental factors necessary to thrive now and into adulthood.

Too often, girls who marry early end their educations, and are forced or encouraged to prove their fertility by having children early and often before they or their bodies are ready. Motherhood and lack of access to a full range of educational and economic opportunities related to child marriage often traps girls in a cycle of poverty. Children born to child brides are more likely to face malnutrition and stunting than are the children borne to older peers . Girls married as children are also more likely to experience intimate partner violence, and for those married at 15 and below, they are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other health issues. Today, there are 15 million girls of primary-school age who will never even enter a classroom, half of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, girls are almost two and a half times more likely to be out of primary school if they live in conflict-affected countries, and 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than their counterparts in countries not affected by conflict. It is legislation like the Keeping Girls in School Act that brings much needed attention to the barriers such as child marriage that perpetuate poverty and abuses against girls worldwide. Its passage would signal Congressional recognition that education is key to the realisation of girls’ rights and potential, to progress towards gender equality, and to greater yields in human and economic development.

We are pleased to support the Keeping Girls in School Act and welcome the strong bipartisan support for this important bill.

For more information about Girls Not Brides USA or child marriage, please contact the Girls Not Brides USA Co-Chairs:

RACHEL CLEMENT, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), rclement@icrw.org

NINA BESSER, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), nbesser@iwhc.org