The Philippine Senate approved on Second Reading on Monday, October 12, the bill prohibiting child marriage in the Philippines.
To date, this is the farthest step this bill has reached in the history of the Philippine Congress.
Senate Bill 1373 seeks to provide equal protection for all girls in the country by explicitly prohibiting child marriage and criminalizing its facilitation and solemnization.
The bill defines child marriage as an act of child abuse punishable under the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
Affirming that marriage shall be entered into only with free and full consent of intending spouses, the bill declares that betrothal and child marriages shall have no legal effect.
Aside from these, the bill enjoins national government agencies and local government units to launch programs that will help prevent the practice of child marriage.
The bill aims to address the prevalence of child marriage in the Philippines, where one in six Filipino girls get married before reaching the age of 18.
Despite laws setting the minimum age for marriage at 18 years old, child marriage happens in the country for various reasons: the Code of Muslim Personal Laws allowing parents to marry off their children at puberty, cultural tradition among communities, and poverty and lack of education, among others.
On the other hand, co-habitation among children is also often practiced as a result of early pregnancy.
Child marriage exposes children, particularly girls, to many and sometimes life-long and irreversible negative health and development impacts.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, marriage and family matters is the top reason for girls dropping out of school, while pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications among young mothers account for 22 percent of all maternal deaths in the country.
Early pregnancy also has negative consequences for the health and survival of the child of the young mother.
In a symbolic gesture in solidarity with the rest of the world for the International Day of the Girl Child, Philippine senators closed the bill’s Period of Interpellation and Period of Amendments with an overwhelming vote approving the bill.
Advocates have hailed this as a “historic win.”
Meanwhile, the counterpart bills in the House of Representatives have been referred to the Committee on the Welfare of Children and are awaiting committee deliberation.