An international humanitarian and development group lauded the impending passage of a bill seeking to end child marriage in the Philippines.
In a statement, Oxfam Pilipinas said it welcomes the House of Representatives Committee on Women and Gender Equality’s (CWGE) decision to approve in principle a proposed bill seeking to end child marriage in the country.
In a hearing Wednesday, May 19, the committee approved House Bills nos. 1486, 3899, 5670 & 7922 and directed its secretariat to draft a unified version of the proposed laws for possible approval at its next hearing.
The bills seek to address the legal loopholes that allow child marriage in the Philippines and would strengthen child protection mechanisms to prevent further acts of violence and abuse, Oxfam Pilipinas said.
Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy, an author of one of the bills, said there is an urgent need for a national law to prohibit child marriage.
“[This is to] ensure that all Filipino children have the opportunity to grow and develop to their full potential,” Herrera-Dy said.
CWGE chairperson Malou Acosta-Alba acknowledged that 12 million girls from all over the world are married before the age of 18 every year.
“That’s 23 girls every minute,” she said.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas also lauded the development, saying her party supports the CWGE in pushing for the “inalienable rights of women and girls and in registering the essence of consent.”
The Senate unanimously passed a similar measure called Senate Bill No. 1373 or the “Girls Not Brides” bill last November 9.
The “Girls Not Brides” bill seeks to prohibit marriage between minors – persons below 18 years old – as well as between a minor and an adult.
Any person who causes, fixes, facilitates or arranges a child marriage shall be fined at least P40,000 and face a prison sentence between 8 years and a day and 10 years, the Senate Bill proposes.
Grave human rights violation
Oxfam Pilipinas Gender Justice Program Manager Jeanette Dulawan said child marriage is a grave violation of human rights and a serious public health issue.
“As with other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and poverty. Early marriage is seen as a way to ‘sanction’ girls for premarital sexual activity and pregnancy outside marriage,” Dulawan said.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said the Philippines has the 12th highest absolute number of child brides in the world at 726,000.
An estimated 15% of Filipina girls are married before the legally-allowable age of 18, the agency said.
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) also explained that child marriage is practiced by some religions and cultures in the country.
Some allow the marriage of a female at the age of puberty, which is presumed upon reaching the age of fifteen, the PCW said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)