The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics

 revisiting the world's sacred traditions

Letter to the US Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women
United States Mission to the UN

February 26, 2007

Ambassador Patricia Brister
US Representative to the Commission
on the Status of Women
United States Mission to the UN
140 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Dear Ambassador Brister,

As U.S.-based organizations working for the human rights and well-being of women worldwide, we welcome the United States government's engagement in the 51st Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

We share the U.S. government's concern regarding the practices of forced and child marriages that are widespread in many countries, and regarding female infanticide. As such, we ask that the United States incorporate the following recommendations into its work on any resolutions developed at the CSW on these issues.

Female infanticide and sex selective abortion:

Over two decades of work have demonstrated that female infanticide, and the more recent phenomenon of sex selective abortion, are simply symptoms of strong cultural, economic, and social preference for sons. They can only be eliminated by changing the value that parents and society attach to girls. The actions needed include:

" Development and effective implementation of laws, policies and programs that eliminate all forms of violence against girls (within the family and society), increase public awareness of the value of girls, and end discrimination against girls in access to food, education, and health care. Laws must be enacted and implemented to secure property rights for women and ensure they are able to inherit other forms of family or marital wealth, to ensure access to credit under their own name, and to end such practices as dowry and costly weddings that also sometimes lead parents to desire sons over daughters, force their daughters to marry early, or sell their daughters into bonded labor.

" Women and girls must have access to the support and services necessary for them to develop self-esteem, acquire knowledge and make decisions on and take responsibility for their own health, especially on matters related to their sexual and reproductive lives. Boys and men should be educated to support gender equality and on the importance of women's health and

well-being. Where practices such as female infanticide are common, special community education and other outreach programs to local leaders, men, and women should be developed to change the attitudes and norms that sanction the practice.

Such efforts will not only eliminate the practices of female infanticide and sex selective abortion, but also elevate the status of women within families and societies and guarantee protection of their human rights.

Child Marriage

Child marriage is a human rights violation perpetrated by the child's parents, not the child. Where laws exist, almost none specify consent, but almost all specify that minimum age can be circumvented by parental "consent." In essence, the laws therefore grant parents authority to marry their underage child(ren). Child marriage is driven by poverty, the view that girls are a burden to the family, custom, or the belief that marriage will protect girls from violence or premarital sexual relations. And, as you know, the consequences of child marriage are enormous. The actions needed are:

" Governments should be called on to review, enact and enforce laws and regulations that both set a minimum age at marriage (that takes into account physiological and social maturity), and also to establish terms for entry into marriage, including that the intending spouses enter the marriage only with free and informed consent.

" Community-based efforts to create an environment to delay marriage should be supported so that females-whether young girls or older adolescents and young adults-can finish their education and attain whatever level of economic independence they might seek. Some community-based groups have had success in expanding girls access to education on time and through secondary school, conducting community awareness and informational campaigns, enlisting the assistance of traditional clan and religious leaders, reducing gender-based violence and creating safer environments for girls. These and other successful efforts must be scaled up dramatically.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.


ActionAid International USA
Advocates for Youth
American Medical Student Association
Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP)
Catholics for a Free Choice
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Center for Reproductive Rights
Center for Women Policy Studies
Center for Women's Global Leadership

Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)
François-Xavier Bagnoud International (FXB International)
International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region
International Women's Health Coalition
International Women's Rights Action Watch
National Council of Jewish Women
National Organization for Women
Population Action International
Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health, and Ethics
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Women's Environment and Development Organization

cc: United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and
Ambassador Alejandro D. Wolff, Acting Permanent U.S. Representative to the United

Back to Top

Send this page to a friend!

Home   About Us   Newsletters   News Archives   Donate