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Child Marriage: Three Things to Know

Speaker: Rachel B. Vogelstein, Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations
May 20, 2013

Under current trends, experts predict that by 2020 some fifty million girls will be married before they reach their fifteenth birthdays. Rachel Vogelstein, CFR fellow for women and foreign policy, highlights three things to know about child marriage and why it matters to U.S. foreign policy:

Child Marriage Is Globally Prevalent: "The United Nations estimates that one in three women aged twenty to twenty-four--about seventy million--was married under the age of eighteen," Vogelstein says. "This practice occurs across regions, cultures, and religions: India accounts for 40 percent of the world's known child brides, and this tradition is also pervasive elsewhere in South Asia, across Sub-Saharan Africa, and in parts of Latin America and the Middle East."

U.S. Interests at Stake: "[Child marriage] undermines U.S. interests in development, prosperity, and stability," Vogelstein argues. "Consider, for example, the effect of this practice on economic growth: Research suggests that child marriage curtails education for young girls, which has been shown to stifle economic progress. Instability is also associated with child marriage: One analysis found that most of the twenty-five countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are either fragile states or at high risk of natural disaster."

A New Washington Strategy: "In March, Congress enacted a provision in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that requires the secretary of state to develop a U.S. strategy to combat child marriage," Vogelstein says. "As the Obama administration and Congress work together to develop and fund this strategy in a time of fiscal austerity, policymakers would do well to remember that the success of U.S. efforts to foster development, prosperity, and stability will grow if this persistent practice comes to an end."

Additional Resources:

Ending Child MarriageEnding child marriage is not only a moral imperative—it is a strategic imperative that will further critical U.S. foreign policy interests in development, prosperity, stability, and the rule of law.


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