President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bill sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R, Fla.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D, N.H.) that will direct current U.S. foreign aid to support the rights of women and girls in developing countries by working to establish birth registries in their countries.
The “Girls Count Act of 2015” was introduced in March to authorize the secretary of state and the U.S. Agency for International Development to prioritize efforts to support the rights of women and girls in developing countries.
Among other things, the bill will use foreign assistance to encourage countries to enact laws ensuring that boys and girls of all ages are able to fully participate in society; that includes providing birth certifications and other official documentation.
The bill passed the Senate in May by unanimous consent and the House earlier this month by a voice vote. The president signed it Friday.
In a statement, Rubio on Friday said the law means the “U.S. is solidifying our commitment to helping all kids around the world to get registered at birth so they are counted and able to fully participate in and contribute to their societies.”
He added: “Failing to register children at birth leaves them vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation, yet millions of children around the world continue to be denied this basic human right.” He called the legislation “a strong step forward in the fight against human trafficking and forced labor.”
According to Rubio’s office, millions of children worldwide are not registered at birth, most of them girls. Having proof of birth can be critical to making sure children don’t fall victim to dangers such as exploitation.
In addition to encouraging countries to enact laws providing official documents, the law will work to enhance training in developing nations to emphasize the need for birth registries in countries where girls are systematically undercounted. It will also require the secretary of state and USAID to include, if possible, information in reports about who benefits from U.S. foreign aid -- by age, gender, marital status, location and school-enrollment status.