Just a few hours ago today, Congress voted to renew the Violence Against Women Act. This important bill is a reauthorization of legislation first enacted in 1994; this version includes provisions to combat child marriage.

Early marriage is an egregious violation of human rights with severe consequences for girls’ sexual and reproductive health. Every day more than 37,000 girls get married, and if present trends continue, an estimated 15 million girls will become child brides every year beginning in 2021. Girls who are married are forced to take on roles for which they are not emotionally and physically prepared. For many girls, marriage marks the beginning of their sexual life. Married adolescents have sex more often than their unmarried peers; are less able to refuse sex or negotiate safe sex; and often have older, more sexually experienced partners — all factors that increase their risk of HIV infection. Young women are often expected to demonstrate their fertility by becoming pregnant. Many give birth within the first year of marriage when their bodies are not fully matured. Childbirth- and pregnancy-related complications are the number one cause of death among girls ages 15-19; of the 16 million adolescent girls who give birth each year, 90% are married.

The early marriage provisions included in this bill mandate that the administration create a multisectoral strategy to end child marriage. The bill states that the “Secretary of State shall establish and implement a multi-year, multi-sectoral strategy—

  1. to prevent child marriage,
  2. to promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage in developing countries
  3. that should address the unique needs and vulnerabilities and potential of girls younger than 18 years of age in developing countries
  4. that targets areas in developing countries with high prevalence of child marriage and
  5. that includes diplomatic and programmatic initiatives.”

In response to this act, U.S. Senator Durbin stated,

 “Today is a victory for women and girls not only living here at home but abroad; The new mandate for a multisectoral strategy to end child marriage is an important step forward and now we must focus our efforts on ensuring it is developed without delay and its implementation is fully funded.”

This is an important step in the fight against early marriage. President Obama is expected to soon sign the bill in law saying

 “Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”