Last week, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing to expose child marriage. Representatives from CARE and UNICEF were among the panelists that testified against the harmful practice of child marriage. The hearing focused exclusively on incidents of child marriage that take place abroad. No mention was made of the startling incidence of child marriages taking place right here in the United States.

Testimony emphasized the adverse health, educational and social consequences of forcing girls to marry at a young age. Child brides are at a higher risk for domestic violence, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and complications in pregnancy and childbirth. And, the infant mortality rate for very young mothers is higher. Child brides are almost invariably forced to drop out of school once they marry, which perpetuates a cycle of dependency and poverty.

Speakers urged Congress to pass a bill (H.R. 2103), International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, sponsored by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) with 100 bipartisan co-sponsors. Rep. McCollum says that the bill will require the U.S. government to develop an integrated, strategic approach to protect girls from child marriage. It will also require the State Department to identify countries where child marriage is common in the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.