• The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) noted a decline in its prevalence worldwide — from one in four girls from 10 years ago to about one in five today.
  • With the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, the UNICEF fears that 10 million more girls worldwide will end up becoming child brides.
  • A separate analysis by Save the Children projected that 2.5 million girls will be at risk of marriage by 2025, which would be the greatest surge in child marriages rate in 25 years.
  • The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2017 noted that 15 percent of women reported getting married by age 18, while two percent said they were married by age 15.
  • In November 2020, the Senate unanimously approved on final reading Senate Bill No. 1373, which seeks to outlaw marriages between minors, or between a minor and an adult. 
  • A counterpart bill was passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading on Sept. 6.  Like the Senate bill, House Bill No. 9943 bans and declares child marriages “void from the start.”
Like the Senate bill, House Bill No. 9943 bans and declares child marriages “void from the start.”  It proposes to punish persons who facilitate a child marriage with a penalty of prison mayor in its medium period, or a fine of at least P40,000.

Much has been said about child marriage, and several organizations, both local and international, agree: It is a form of child abuse, an exploitation, a human rights violation that deprives children of several opportunities.

While the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) noted a decline in its prevalence worldwide — from one in four girls from 10 years ago to about one in five today — the practice of child marriage remains.

In the Philippines, about 808,000 women got married before they turned 18 years old, according to the latest figures of the Girls Not Brides organization, which put the country at the 10th spot in terms of the highest absolute number of women who got married before reaching the age of 18.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in 2017 noted that 15 percent of women reported getting married by age 18, while two percent said they were married by age 15.

In its 2019 Marriage Statistics, the PSA recorded 45 girls and boys under 15 years old who got married during the year.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts, the UNICEF fears that 10 million more girls worldwide will end up becoming child brides. A separate analysis by Save the Children projected that 2.5 million girls will be at risk of marriage by 2025, which would be the biggest surge in the rate of child marriages in 25 years.

Child marriage is driven not only by poverty, trafficking or lack of education, but also by cultural practices passed down through generations.

While the legal age of marriage in the Philippines is 18, existing laws permit marriage before this age among Muslims and indigenous peoples.

Of the Filipino girls and boys who registered their marriage in local civil registry in 2019, 24 were married in Muslim tradition while 20 were married in tribal ceremonies.

The country’s Code of Muslim Personal Laws (Presidential Decree No. 1083) allows marriage at the age of 15 for boys, and at the onset of puberty for girls.

While consent is mandatory before the marriage, some children were raised thinking that their elders would decide for them.

Other Muslim families, however, have become more liberal, with members no longer being subjected to early and arranged marriages.

The Bangsamoro Women Commission (BWC), an agency in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), has been vocal against child marriage, especially in pointing out its adverse effects to young girls.

“Child brides have limited opportunities for education and employment, are at an increased risk of domestic violence and other assaults to their physical and mental health, and have little decision-making power within the household, especially when married to older men,” the BWC said in a position paper submitted to the Senate.

The BWC called for the amendment of the PD No. 1083.

In November, 2020, the Senate unanimously approved on final reading Senate Bill No. 1373, which seeks to outlaw marriages between minors, or between a minor and an adult. 

Senate Bill No. 1373, which explicitly defines child marriage as “child abuse,” would penalize those who facilitate and arrange such marriage with imprisonment of up to 12 years and a fine of up to P50,000. Parents and guardians will also be stripped of their parental authority over the child.

Those who officiate a child marriage, meanwhile, would be slapped with a jail term and fine of at least P40,000, as well as perpetual disqualification from office.

A counterpart bill was passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading on Monday, Sept. 6.

Like the Senate bill, House Bill No. 9943 bans and declares child marriages “void from the start.”  It proposes to punish persons who facilitate a child marriage with a penalty of prison mayor in its medium period, or a fine of at least P40,000.

If the parent or guardian of the child arranges the marriage, the penalty will likewise be imprisonment or a fine of at least P50,000 and the loss of parental authority.

Individuals who officiate the child marriage will also be slapped with a penalty of prison mayor in its maximum period or a fine of at least P50,000, while public officials will also face perpetual disqualification from office.

‘Historic step’

“This is a historic step toward the criminalization of child marriage, which has trapped several Filipino girls into unwanted and early child-bearing responsibilities,” Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas said.

“Clearly, the fight versus early and forced child marriage is not a fight against a long-time practice, tradition or custom. It is an urgent and necessary fight to end abuse and violence against women and children,” Kabataan Party List Rep. Sarah Elago said. “It’s time to challenge and end it.”

Senator Risa Hontiveros, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, expressed her optimism that the bill, if signed into law, will end the practice of child marriage despite it being embedded in cultural practices.

“Just like any other law that involves challenging deep-seated values and cultural practices, implementing this on the ground will involve the cooperation of national government agencies, civil society organizations, and other advocates, and stakeholders. In the bill, they are called duty-bearers,” Hontiveros told the Manila Bulletin.

The chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality referred to the bill’s provisions tasking concerned government agencies to undertake and monitor program against child marriage.

“As always, constant education – learning and unlearning – will be key to transforming these cultural beliefs and practices. We recognize that it may be a difficult process, but nothing worthwhile ever comes easy,” Hontiveros said.