New legislation carries up to 12 years in prison for those who flout the law banning underage marriage.
By Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila, UCA News
The Philippines has enacted a new law banning child marriage and cohabitation with minors.
It is hoped the bill, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Jan. 6, will end practices that see one in six Filipino girls married before they turn 18.
Children’s rights advocates welcomed the new law, saying it marked a major advancement in protecting young girls.
“This is a major victory in our campaign to end child marriage in the Philippines. This law will help protect children, especially young girls, and hopefully change the trajectory of their lives,” the law’s author, lawmaker Bernadette Herrera, told The Inquirer newspaper on Jan. 6.
The new law not only criminalizes marrying someone under 18 years old but also outlaws cohabitating with a minor as husband and wife and punishes those who facilitate such unions.
It carries a jail term up to 12 years and a fine of at least 40,000 pesos (US$800).
“Thus, the law views that child marriage as a practice is a form of child abuse because it violates and degrades the dignity of our children” – Christopher Lao
“Child marriage or cohabitation is a longstanding yet disturbing practice … This new law is a big step towards ensuring children’s rights are upheld and their well-being and future secured,” Herrera said.
Law professor Christopher Lao said the legislation will hopefully provide a cure to what has been a longstanding social ill.
“The state is now taking care of the rights of those who cannot defend themselves like minors. … The law is there to protect their rights,” Lao told UCA News.
Father Joem Afable, a priest from Sorsogon Diocese on the main Philippine island of Luzon, said child marriage was morally impermissible.
“The reason why we have this practice is that it is a form of respect to our parents. We Filipinos do not want to break our word of honor, even if it’s against our will. Some parents promised the future of their children as if they were born to serve and pay off their debt,” Father Afable Sorsogon told UCA News.
Leila de Lima, a human rights activist and politician who has been jailed without trial for the last five years, also said child marriage had no place in a civilized world.
“We are duty-bound by the law to not only protect and uphold their rights but to also raise girls into strong women whose consent will have to be obtained before anything could be demanded from them,” De Lima said in a Facebook post from her jail cell.
A United Nations Children’s Fund report released last year said more than half a billion girls around the world were married while still children, with the highest rates found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The Philippines ranked 12th among countries with the highest number of child marriages, according to Plan International, a UK-based rights group.
Featured image: A young actress takes part in a campaign by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage in October 2016 in Rome, Italy. (Photo: AFP)