Multi-sector groups have joined forces to press for the abolition of child marriage in the Philippines.
They launched on Tuesday, May 11, an online petition on Change.Org and can be accessed via www.change.org/endchildmarriageph.
The petition was spearheaded by the Child Rights Network (CRN), the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), Plan International Philippines, and the nationwide coalition #GirlDefenders Alliance.
The groups called on Congress to pass a law that will repeal all laws, decrees, executive orders, issuances, rules, and regulations that legally allow the practice of child marriage.
So far, over 100 organizations, government agencies and officials, legislators, lawyers, health practitioners, personalities, and civil society advocates have already signed the petition. The list of signatories can be viewed through bit.ly/endchildmarriagesignatories.
Data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) showed that the Philippines ranks 12th globally in the absolute number of child marriages.
The 2017 data of the Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey also shows that one in every six Filipino girls are married before they are 18 years old and that 26.4 percent of married women aged 15-19 years old reportedly experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence.
In a comparative study of 34 countries published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, it was even found that physical or sexual intimate partner violence was higher among women who married as children (29 percent) compared to those who married as adults (20 percent).
Two of the supporters of the online petition are MAYA, a Maguindanao-based youth alliance against child marriage, and Linding Ko Kalombayan in Lanao del Sur. These organizations are rooted in Bangsamoro, where child marriage still remains prevalent.
“Today, we announce to the nation and the world that children and youth in Bangsamoro are standing up to say child marriage must stop,” youth advocate Farhana Tala Ganoy of MAYA said.
Ganoy said child marriages have negative impacts on the lives of children, not only in Bangsamoro but also in the whole world.
She admitted it is painful to see young girls getting married off and not getting the chance to finish their education and fulfill their dreams.
Instead of weighing children down with the responsibilities of marriage, Ganoy urged people to instead “be champions for their hopes and dreams.”
Senate has already passed a version of the bill that prohibits child marriage. Senate Bill No. 1373 or the “Girls Not Brides Act” criminalizes marriage between a minor (below 18 years old) and an adult. Even those who facilitate or solemnize these marriages will be penalized.
However, the House of Representatives has yet to act on similar pending bills. The House Committee on Women and Gender Equality is scheduled to hold its first-ever hearing on the pending bills on May 19.
The CRN said that child marriage is still a prevalent practice in Muslim and indigenous communities in the Philippines. Even though the legal marrying age for Filipinos is 18, the Code of Muslim Personal Laws or Section 1 Article 16 of Presidential No. 1083 allows girls to be married off at an earlier age — at the age of puberty or at the onset of first menstruation.
“As the House of Representatives readies for the opening of the debates on the practice of child marriage, may this point be highlighted: that beyond cultural norms, this practice is still prevalent – and even on the rise – as a result of economic insecurity brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto.
“Our legislators need to look at the issue not only as a matter of prohibiting the act of solemnizing and facilitating child marriage, but also about addressing the fact that many families are resorting to this act as a survival strategy amid severe poverty,” he added.