By Hannah Torregoza
A bill seeking to eradicate child marriages in the Philippines has been filed at the Senate.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said the measure seeks to protect children by prohibiting and penalizing child marriages.
Under Senate Bill No. 162, or an act protecting children by prohibiting and declaring child marriage as illegal, facilitation, solemnization or participation in child marriages would be considered a public crime and a violation of Section 10 of the Republic Act No. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse and Discrimination Act.
Violators would face a penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and fees up to P50,000.
The bill, also called ‘Girls Not Brides’ Act of 2019,’ will hold any person who causes, fixes, facilitates or arranges a child marriage accountable for neglect, abuse, cruelty, or exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to the child’s development.
“Let our children be children. Let us allow them to grow and fulfill their full potential. Let us end child marriages,” Hontiveros said.
According to Hontiveros, the Philippines ranks 12th in the number of child brides in the world, with an estimated 726,000 in the country.
Citing a UNICEF study, the lawmaker said 15 percent of Filipino girls are married before their 18th birthday, with some two percent getting married before 15 years old.
She also said she is saddened over 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.
Apart from the fact they are not physically and emotionally ready to become wives and even mothers, the lawmaker said they also face greater health risks from dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence.
In areas like Marawi City, the senator said cases of child marriages increased due to the economic constraints felt in the area. These children, she said are married off as “economic exchanges.”
“This is wrong on so many levels. Child marriage is a human rights violation as it undermines the well-being of girls and impedes their personal development,” Hontiveros explained.
“Many will likely end up in poverty as child brides will have limited education and economic opportunities,” she said.