By Mario Casayuran
Two Senate committees have jointly recommended the early passage of Senate Bill (SB) 1373, which will prohibit and declare child marriage as illegal.
Children, under SB 1373, refers to persons below 18 years of age, or those unable to fully take care of themselves or protect themselves from abuse, exploitation or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability or condition.
The two committees which pushed for the early passage of the bill were the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros, and the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development chaired by detained Senator Leila de Lima.
The two committees jointly prepared SB 1373 in substitution to SB 162 with Hontiveros as author.
SB 1373 defines child marriage as an act of child abuse as it debases, degrades and demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of children under Republic Act (RA) 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
It also affirms that marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses and that betrothal and child marriages shall have no legal effect.
The bill provides that any person, who causes, fixes, facilitates or arranges a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prison mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than P40,000. Provided, however, that should the perpetrator be an ascendant, stepparent, or guardian of the minor, the penalty imposed shall be prison mayor in its maximum period, a fine of not less than P50,000, and the loss of parental authority over the same.
Any person who performs or officiates the formal rites of child shall suffer the penalty of prison mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than Forty Thousand pesos (P40,000.00), in addition to perpetual disqualification from office if he or she is a public officer.
The prohibited act of child marriage, its facilitation and solemnization, are considered public crimes and can be initiated by any concerned individual.
Child marriage is considered as void ab initio (null from the beginning), hence, the action for annulment of child marriage does not prescribe.