“If we continue to allow child marriages, we are essentially robbing our youth of their right to a safe and nurturing childhood.” This was the remark of Senator Risa Hontiveros during her sponsorship of ‘Girls Not Brides Act’ on Wednesday which seeks to end child marriages in the Philippines.
Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said that Senate Bill No. 1373 will prevent child marriage by making it a public crime.
“Under the bill, any person who facilitates and solemnizes this union will face a prison sentence of up to 12 years, and fines of up to 50,000 pesos,” said Hontiveros. “He or she will be held liable under the Republic Act No. 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act”, she explained.
With an estimated 726,000 children married off before their 18th birthday, the Philippines ranks 12th highest in the world in absolute numbers, the senator noted.
“At a time when we, together with the rest of the world, are slowly making headway in ensuring that young girls are protected and are able to reach their full potential as human beings, the existence of child marriages in our country negates these efforts,” she also said.
Hontiveros explained that child brides are less likely to remain in school, depriving them of economic prospects and other opportunities an education affords. These girls, she said, are also vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, domestic violence, abuse, and exploitation.
The Senator said that even though children below 18 are prohibited under law from being party to a legal contract which is what establishes the legitimacy of a marriage, more than half a million girls are forced against their agency to abide.
She also acknowledged the cultural sensitivities surrounding child marriage, and said that the bill introduces culturally-appropriate programs and services led by the Department of Social Work and Development that will be responsive to the needs of those who will be affected by this law.
“Poverty may be among the drivers of child marriages, but there is also a subtler impulse behind this practice. Child marriage, as part of social norms in communities where it is common, is often the result of entrenched gender inequality,” she said.
“Culture can be considered not only as practices but also a process.
Culture continues to evolve, accepting of new knowledge and later realizations. We are duty-bound to acknowledge that our children are our future, and all that we do must be in their best interest,” Hontiveros concluded. (senate.gov.ph)