The Child Rights Network (CRN) and Oxfam, an international movement to end injustice and poverty, have lauded the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality for “approving in principle” four pending bills that seek to repeal all laws and regulations which legally allow the practice of child marriage in the Philippines.
The committee, chaired by Bukidnon Rep. Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba, conducted last Tuesday, May 18, its first virtual hearing on House Bills 1486, 3899, 5670, and 7922.
The four bills seek to protect children by “prohibiting child marriage and declaring it as illegal, providing programs and imposing penalties for violation thereof.”
The House committee moved to pass the bills on initial consideration, pending the formulation of a substitute bill. Once the substitute bill passes the third and final reading, it will serve as the counterpart measure of the House of Representatives to Senate Bill 1373, which the Senate approved on the third and final reading in Nov. 2020.
CRN, the broadest alliance of child rights advocates in the country, is pleased with the steps taken by government officials to give children the chance to live out their dreams and escape the bonds of early marriage.
Child marriages are still being observed by Muslim and indigenous cultural communities in the country 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 marriage at the age of puberty or at the onset of first menstruation.
“We laud our champion legislators today for swiftly acting on these proposals that are vital to ending child marriage in the Philippines. We are optimistic that before the 18th Congress adjourns, we will already have a landmark law that will widen our mantle of protection to children,” said CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto.
“Child marriage in the 21st century might seem to be a bizarre event to many of our legislators, but as we have shared, these are lived experiences,” he said.
“And let’s call it what it is: a violation of children’s rights. Time is ticking, but we trust that our champion legislators at the House will ensure that child marriage will no longer exist, once and for all,” he added.
Jeanette Dulawan, Gender Justice Program Manager of Oxfam Pilipinas, echoed the sentiments of Dongeto and stressed that child marriage is a serious public health issue.
Dulawan said there are harmful social and gender norms behind child marriage, which is often rooted in inequality and poverty.
Sadly, early pregnancy is often being used to “sanction” girls for premarital sexual activity and pregnancy outside marriage, she lamented.
“Oxfam Philippines recent research looked into the social norms and beliefs towards sexual and reproductive health of selected communities and found strong evidence that prevailing negative attitudes and gendered expectations are harming women and girls,” she said.
“We believe that ending child marriage requires a coordinated multi-sectoral approach that will engage girls, boys, parents, teachers, national and local authorities and decision-makers, and a broad range of other stakeholders,” she added.