A nationwide signature campaign to end child marriage is circulating nationwide urging Congress to pass a law that will repeal all other laws, decrees, executive orders, issuances, rules, and regulations that legally allow the practice of child marriage.
A multi-sectoral coalition of children and women’s rights advocates and organizations, including children and youth organizations in Bangsamoro jumpstarted the campaign.
The online petition filed on Change.Org (www.change.org/endchildmarriageph) is spearheaded by the Child Rights Network (CRN), the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), Plan International Philippines, and the nationwide multi-sectoral coalition #GirlDefenders Alliance. It was initially signed by 100 organizations and coalitions, government agencies and officials, legislators, lawyers, health practitioners, personalities, artists, and advocates from civil society. (See initial list of signatories here: bit.ly/endchildmarriagesignatories)
At the heart of the campaign are children and youth organizations in Bangsamoro, where child marriage remains prevalent. These groups include MAYA, a Maguindanao-based youth alliance against child marriage, and Linding Ko Kalombayan in Lanao del Sur.
“Today, we announce to the nation and the world that children and youth in Bangsamoro are standing up to say child marriage must stop. We need to change harmful practices like child marriage, lalung-lalo na kapag ang bagay na ito ay nagkakaroon ng hindi magandang epekto sa pamumuhay ng mga bata, hindi lamang sa Bangsamoro, kundi sa buong Pilipinas at buong mundo. Let’s be champions for their hopes and dreams,” youth advocate Farhana Tala Ganoy of MAYA said.
“Ako at ang aking mga kasamang #GirlDefenders mula sa MAYA ay marami nang narinig at nakitang cases ng child marriage. Napakasakit para sa akin at para sa amin na makita sila na ikinakasal na wala pa sa tamang edad, kung saan wala silang chance na makapagpatuloy ng kanilang pag-aaral at matupad ang kanilang pangarap,” Ms. Ganoy stressed.
Pass Anti-Child Marriage Law
Child rights advocates noted that while the Senate has already passed its version of a bill that prohibits child marriage, the House of Representatives has yet to act on similar pending bills, with the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality scheduled to hold its first-ever hearing on the pending bills this May 19.
Child marriage is still a prevalent practice in Muslim and indigenous communities in the Philippines. Although 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 note with distinction how the Senate has speedily approved Senate Bill 1373, which institutes a culturally appropriate program to not only prohibit child marriage, but also help victims to be provided access to restorative justice,” CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto said.
“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. 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,” Mr. Dongeto explained.
For her part, House Committee on Women and Gender Equality Chair Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba pledged to swiftly pass pending measures that will declare the facilitation and solemnization of child marriage as a public crime. “Our fellow legislators will waste no time to ensure that a well-rounded measure will be passed, a law that will strike the balance between respecting culture and tradition, while at the same time protecting our children. Aside from declaring the act of child marriage as a public crime, we intend on legislating the creation of programs and measures that will appropriately address the problem, including education and health services that will be available to those who urgently need such,” Rep. Acosta-Alba declared.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera of the Bagong Henerasyon Party List also registered her support for the #ENDChildMarriage campaign.
“As the first legislator in the Philippines to file a bill prohibiting child marriage, I stand firm in my commitment to provide equal protection from violence and abuse for all Filipino children,” said Deputy Speaker Herrera. “Every child, a girl child especially, has the right to dream. As legislators, it is our responsibility to ensure we legislate laws that seek to help them fulfill their dreams,” she added.
Child marriage remains a national concern
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Philippines ranks 12th globally in the absolute number of child marriages. The 2017 Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey also shows that 1 in 6 Filipino girls are married before they are 18 years old.
“Child marriage is a form of violence against girls. It takes away their potential for higher educational attainment, higher employability, and better life conditions. It leaves them vulnerable to grave risks, such as, high-risk pregnancies, reproductive health disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases,” said Ana Maria Locsin, Country Director of Plan International Philippines, an organization that seeks equality for girls.
“Not only is child marriage detrimental to girls’ health and overall development, it can also lead to domestic violence and abuse,” Ms. Locsin added.
Data from the 2017 Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey indicate that 26.4% of married women aged 15-19 years old reported experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional violence. In a comparative study of 34 countries published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, it was found that physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence was higher among women who married as children (29%) compared with those who married as adults (20%).
Sign the petition
In the online launch of the #ENDChildMarriage nationwide signature campaign, legislators, personalities, artists, and advocates called on the public to express their support for the campaign by signing the online petition.
“Violating children’s rights should never be normalized,” said Ms. Frankie Pangilinan, child rights advocate and a champion of girls’ and women’s rights.
“We need to drastically change the narrative of children, especially of girls, who are affected by child marriage. No longer should children be forced to marry, regardless of their economic, social, or cultural circumstances. The lives and future of the next generation are in our hands. Your signature and every signature counts as we act to rewrite herstory,” Ms. Pangilinan concluded.