GOP: The party of abuse and injustice takes a step lower

Mass wedding of 450 girls 10 and under in Gaza Strip.

One of the characteristics of authoritarians is the lock-step opposition to any sort of amelioration of the conditions of the oppressed. It doesn’t matter if the act threatens their iron grip on power; it is simply knee-jerk. They evidently believe that even a tiny spark of hope can cause a conflagration in which they will be burned.

So, in this spirit, the Republicans in the House of Representatives, soon to be the majority, flexed its right-wing sway to block a bill yesterday that would have directed our foreign policy attention to the problem of child marriages in the developing world. To get an idea of how repulsive this custom is, and how it brutalizes children, read this two-year old piece from the New York Times, which details the beating and sexual abuse of a 9-year old “bride” in Yemen and the fight to end this form of child-abuse there. But it is a world-wide plight that deserves the attention of any country that prides itself in observing and promoting human rights.

UNICEF says this about the practice:

“The practice of girls marrying at a young age is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. However, in the Middle East, North Africa and other parts of Asia, marriage at or shortly after puberty is common among some groups. There are also parts of West and East Africa and of South Asia where marriages much earlier than puberty are not unusual.”

It estimates that at least 60 million girls have been married before the age of 18 between 2004-08 in developing countries.

The bill in question, S. 987 (The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act), passed the Senate unanimiously with not one Republican objection. And why should there be? Here is the official summary:

Official Summary

12/1/2010–Passed Senate amended. International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010 –

(Sec. 3) Defines “child marriage” as the marriage of a girl or boy not yet the minimum age for marriage stipulated in law in the country in which the girl or boy is a resident, or where there is no such law, under the age of 18.

(Sec. 4) Expresses the sense of Congress that:

(1) child marriage is a violation of human rights and its prevention and elimination should be a U.S. foreign policy goal; and
(2) expanding educational opportunities for girls, economic opportunities for women, and reducing maternal and child mortality are critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and U.S. global health and development objectives, including efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS.

(Sec. 5) Authorizes the President to provide assistance, including through multilateral, nongovernmental, and faith-based organizations, to prevent child marriage in developing countries and to promote the educational, health, economic, social, and legal empowerment of girls and women. Sets forth priority assistance criteria. Directs the President to establish a multi-year strategy to prevent child marriage and promote the empowerment of girls at risk of child marriage in developing countries, and should include addressing the unique needs, vulnerabilities, and potential of girls under age 18 in developing countries. Sets forth strategy elements.

(Sec. 6) Expresses the sense of Congress that the President and all relevant agencies should collect and make available data on:

(1) the incidence of child marriage in countries that receive U.S. foreign or development assistance where the practice of child marriage is prevalent; and
(2) the impact of the incidence of child marriage and the age at marriage on progress in meeting key development goals.

(Sec. 7)
Amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require that Department of State country reports on human rights practices include a description of the status of child marriage for each country in which child marriage is prevalent.

But the Republicans in the House were able to defeat this bill because, the rules being in suspension, it needed the votes of two-thirds present for passage. The vote was 241-166, only 59%. Senator Dick Durban, the Senate sponsor, issued this response to the vote:

“The action on the House floor stopping the Child Marriage bill tonight will endanger the lives of millions of women and girls around the world. These young girls, enslaved in marriage, will be brutalized and many will die when their young bodies are torn apart while giving birth. Those who voted to continue this barbaric practice brought shame to Capitol Hill.”

Of course shame seems to be the new form of currency of the New Republican Party. Each day we see newer instances of disgrace that they enjoy wading in. So what was the reason for this particular instance of ignominy they have overlaid on the Party of Lincoln? The Washington Post explains:

In the hours before the vote, Republicans circulated a memo to pro-life members of Congress alleging that the bill could fund abortions and use child marriage “to overturn pro-life laws.” It also reiterated concerns over the bill’s cost. When it came time for a vote, a number of the bill’s pro-life supporters in both parties abandoned ship. Even co-sponsors of the corresponding House bill (H.R. 2103), like Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), voted against it.

The problem is it is all a lie. There is no mention of abortion in either the Senate or the House bill. Nor are additional funds allocated. It merely makes the practice of child abuse a focus of our international human rights concerns. You can read the bills in their entities here:

S. 987: International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010

H.R. 2103: International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2009

Lies. Fear. Smear. Intimidation. Hysteria. Dishonor. These are the working vocabulary of the New Republican. Good faith and social justice, however, form no part of their lexicon.

  1. May 24th, 2011

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