The head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Episcopal Commission on Youth on Tuesday welcomed Senate’s approval on final reading of a bill declaring child marriage as illegal.
In an interview, Daet Bishop Rex Andrew Alarcon said the move showed the resolve to “protect children and their dignity.”
Although he has yet to read the bill, the CBCP ECY chairman expressed hope that the purpose is also to safeguard the sanctity of marriage and family.
“Marriage and raising a family are for adults as it is a serious responsibility. It is not for children,” said Alarcon.
“Even our church law stipulates marriage for adults,” he added.
The prelate said the desire to protect children, boys and girls, and their rights and (to) safeguard the sanctity of marriage and family is “crucial” and “necessary” for authentic development of a community, society.
“It is a sad reality (that) there (are) children, especially girls, (who) are exploited and abused. The society must protect the most vulnerable from those who exploit them,” said Alarcon.
Senate Bill No. 1373, seeking to prohibit and declare child marriage as illegal, was approved on final reading on November 9 with 21 affirmative votes, no negative vote and no abstention.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, principal author and sponsor of the bill, said the measure aims to promote the empowerment of women and girls by abolishing unequal structures and practices that support discrimination and inequality against women and children.
Hontiveros cited the United Nation’s Fund report showing that 750 million women and girls today were married before they reached their 18th birthday. Of this figure, two percent got married even before they turned 15 years old.
In the Philippines, child brides are estimated at around 726,000, making the country the 12th highest in the world in terms of absolute numbers. A 2019 survey by the Oxfam-led Improving Availability of Reproductive Health Services in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or the ARCHES Project, showed that 253 or 24 percent out of the 1,058 respondents coming from Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and the Basulta regions (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) were involved in cases of child marriage, and 97 percent of them involved girls.
The bill was also authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Leila de Lima, Joel Villanueva, Imee Marcos, Sonny Angara and Francis Pangilinan.