Testimony in Support of SB463: Ending Child Marriage | Presented to Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee – National Consumers League

April 10, 2018

Testimony in Support of SB463: Ending Child Marriage | Presented to the Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee A

by Reid Maki, Director of Child Labor Advocacy, National Consumers League and Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition

Hello, my name is Reid Maki and I represent the National Consumers League (NCL)—the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy group, based in Washington. I am also the coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC)—38 groups committed to reducing abusive child labor here in the U.S. and abroad. NCL founded the CLC nearly three decades ago and continues as one of its two co-chairs. Our members include seven of the largest unions in America, as well as child rights, human rights, and faith-based groups. I am here representing millions of Americans concerned about the safety, education, and welfare of children in the US.

We support a ban on child marriage in Louisiana without exemption. Exceptions are rarely worth the risk that they entail. In many cases, parental consent really means parental coercion. Pregnancy exemptions often means that many girls will be pressured into marrying the man who committed statutory rape. Teenagers who marry are disproportionately women and often they are marrying men who are adults.

The exploitation of children in marriage is well recognized by human rights experts around the globe. When the International Labour Organization and the anti-slavery group Walk Free announced new global estimates of the number of individuals in “modern slavery” last September, they defined the 15.4 million individuals who are in forced marriages as being victims of slavery; 84% of these victims are girls. Six in 10 victims of forced marriage internationally are children.

Recently, the Child Labor Coalition member American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest unions in America whose members are teachers, nurses, and public employees passed a resolution asserting that child marriage is a form of child labor and that child marriage and forced marriage are human rights violations.

In 2016, the U.S. State Department released a document called U.S. “Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.” In it, the State Department describes marriage before age 18 “a human rights abuse that contributes to economic hardship and leads to under-investment in girls’ educational and health care needs.”  The State Department asserts that early marriages – which are often forced – “enable or exacerbate violence and insecurity, including domestic violence.”

It’s well-recognized that child marriage has very negative health impacts and economic impacts on girls. Women who marry before 18 have significantly higher risks for heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, and stroke, as well as having higher risk of mental health issues. They are 50 percent more likely to drop out of school, and four times less likely to graduate from college. The divorce rate for girls who marry before 18 is 70-80%.

Louisiana risks more than it gains by allowing these early marriages. So do the teens getting married.

A 16-year-old in America cannot vote. They cannot fight in combat. They cannot obtain a credit card. In Louisiana, you must be 18 to buy cigarettes. You must be 21 to drink. Does it make sense to allow individuals under 18—children–to wed?

We believe that by reserving marriage for adults, the likelihood of exploitation in that marriage, whether sexual, labor-related, or financial decreases significantly.