President Obama Signs ‘Girls Count Act’ Into Law, Designating Foreign Aid To Girl Power

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President Obama has just signed a major piece of foreign policy legislation that will potentially affect the lives of girls in developing countries all over the world. Dubbed Obama’s “girl power” bill, the Girls Count Act is a very important and key directive that will allow a portion of United States foreign aid budget to go toward helping girls live equal lives filled with opportunities, rather than barriers.

The Girls Count Act was first introduced into Congress in 2013, and in November 2014 was passed, but blocked by the Senate. However once again it was introduced into the 2015 Congressional session and this time it was unanimously passed. Watchdog.org reports that this is by and large a bipartisan effort, as bill was sponsored by Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, and Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida (who is also in the running to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016) in the Senate, and and Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Brad Sherman (D-CA) in the House.

The Girls Count Act will dedicate aid resources to “to effectively address the needs of birth registries in countries where girls are systematically under-counted.” Funding will be provided through United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the next 5 years.

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Having the United States sign this important act is a huge boost to foreign aid, as it is the largest donor to development aid in the world, handing out $35 billion, more than twice the amount of the next country in line, the UK.

So why birth certificates? Because according to UNICEF, worldwide one in three children under the age of 5 aren’t registered at birth, and many of them are girls. Without birth certificates, they don’t have a legal identity, rights, or protections.

Those who legally don’t exist are more vulnerable to child labor practices, human trafficking, and abuse. Now with more funding, the Act will seek to reverse many of the injustices young girls face on a daily basis and now afford them some basic human rights.

This bill authorizes the U.S. Secretary of State and the US Agency for International Development to: (1) support programs that contribute to improved civil and birth registration; (2) incentivize developing countries to build legal frameworks that prevent discrimination against women, and help increase property rights, social security, land tenure, and inheritance rights for women; and (3) assist government ministries of developing countries to ensure that poor girls obtain equal access to social programs.

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One of the organizations that have been championing this bill for some time is Girl Up, the female empowerment arm of the United Nations Foundation.

“For too long, the critical issue of making sure children – especially girls – are registered at birth has been overlooked. That ends now. For girls worldwide who are not registered, the signing of the Girls Count Act is an opportunity to come out of the shadows and have a brighter future,” said Kathy Calvin, President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation.

“Through the UN Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, thousands of youth urged Congress and the President to make the Girls Count Act law, highlighting the power of girls to drive change around the world.”
Many other organizations praised the move of the US Government acknowledging the impact it will make.

girl-up-girls-count-act-white-house“Birth registration is a fundamental right that too many children are denied. The lack of a birth certificate imperils a child’s education, health and future prospects. Children without birth certificates also face a much greater risk of exploitation, abuse and trafficking. I applaud the quick passage of the Girls Count Act and look forward to its implementation,” said Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

The ability for young invisible girls in the world to now be registered at birth, enroll in school, learn to drive, go to college, get a job and envision a future filled with endless possibilities is definitely worth fighting for and dedicating aid to.

The US spends billions of dollars on wars and weapons, it’s time to put our wealth toward benefiting the lives of individuals who have the potential to change the world, given a chance.

Well done US Congress, Senate members and President Obama for proving girl power is worth a bi-partisan effort.

Watch a moving video of Representative Steve Chabot from Ohio tell passionately tell members of Congress in 2014 why the Girls Count Act needed to be passed:

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