The Philippines ranks no. 12 in the number of child brides in the world, with an estimated 726,000 in the country, Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed on Thursday.
Hontiveros cited a UNICEF study which said that 15 percent of Filipino girls are married before their 18th birthday, with 2 percent married before 15 years old.
She mentioned reports that some of the child brides were discovered to have entered marriage through commercial sex and trafficking, as well as the infamous mail-order bride industry.
Due to this, Hontiveros wants to end child marriage in the Philippines.
“If we continue to allow child marriages, we are essentially robbing our youth of their right to a safe and nurturing childhood,” said Hontiveros, during her sponsorship of “Girls Not Brides Act” on Wednesday which seeks to end child marriages in the Philippines.
Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said that Senate Bill No. 1373 will prevent child marriage by making it a public crime.
“Under the bill, any person who facilitates and solemnizes this union will face a prison sentence of up to 12 years, and fines of up to 50,000 pesos,” said Hontiveros.
“He or she will be held liable under the Republic Act No. 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”, she explained.
“At a time when we, together with the rest of the world, are slowly making headway in ensuring that young girls are protected and are able to reach their full potential as human beings, the existence of child marriages in our country negates these efforts,” she also said.
Hontiveros explained that child brides are less likely to remain in school, depriving them of economic prospects and other opportunities an education affords. These girls, she said, are also vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, domestic violence, abuse, and exploitation.
The Senator said that even though children below 18 are prohibited under law from being party to a legal contract which is what establishes the legitimacy of a marriage, more than half a million girls are forced against their agency to abide.
She also acknowledged the cultural sensitivities surrounding child marriage, and said that the bill introduces culturally-appropriate programs and services led by the Department of Social Work and Development that will be responsive to the needs of those who will be affected by this law.
“Poverty may be among the drivers of child marriages, but there is also a subtler impulse behind this practice. Child marriage, as part of social norms in communities where it is common, is often the result of entrenched gender inequality,” she said.
“Culture can be considered not only as practices but also a process. Culture continues to evolve, accepting of new knowledge and later realizations. We are duty-bound to acknowledge that our children are our future, and all that we do must be in their best interest,” Hontiveros said.
Earlier, Hontiveros, Chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality in the 18th Congress, announced that she filed a bill seeking the eradication of child marriages in the Philippines.
Senate Bill 162 or the “Girls not Brides Act of 2019,” aims to protect children by prohibiting and penalizing child marriages. The bill states that facilitation, solemnization or participation in child marriages is a public crime, and will be considered a violation of Section 10 of the Republic Act No. 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, with the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and fees up to P50,000.
The Senator also said that in violence-ridden areas like Marawi, child marriages are spiking because of the economic constraints felt in the area. According to Hontiveros, these children are “married off as economic exchanges.”
“This is wrong on so many levels. Child marriage is a human rights violation as it undermines the wellbeing of girls and impedes their personal development. Many will likely end up in poverty as child brides will have limited education and economic opportunities,” Hontiveros explained.
Hontiveros also said that child brides are also not physically and emotionally ready to become wives and even mothers. “They also face greater health risks from dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence,” she said.
“Let our children be children. Let us allow them to grow and fulfill their full potential. Let us end child marriages,” Hontiveros said./Stacy Ang