Ending child marriage is a moral and development imperative

October 11 marks the International Day of the Girl, a celebration that highlights and addresses the unique needs and challenges of girls, and also promotes girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.

For this year’s celebration, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), together with its advocacy partners, would like to call the attention of policymakers on a violation of women and girls’ rights that is rarely talked about in the Philippines: child marriage. It is a harmful practice that violates the rights of children to choose when and whom to marry and denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk of violence and abuse, and poses risks to her health.

Despite international instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women as well as national legal frameworks such as the Family Code of the Philippines setting the minimum age for marriage at 18, child marriage is still practiced in the Philippines and is usually observed in indigenous cultural communities and Muslim communities. Among Muslim communities, Presidential (PD) 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws allows marriage at the onset of puberty which, is presumed by PD 1083 to be at 15 years old, but can be younger. Among non-indigenous and non-Muslim communities, marriage is not legally allowed but co-habitation is common as a result of teen pregnancy and is among the primary reasons for dropping out of school for girls in the Philippines.

Recognizing the crucial role of policy reforms in creating lasting solutions to violence against women and girls, including child marriage, PLCPD urges lawmakers to harmonize laws and introduce reforms that will help ensure that the rights and the welfare of children are protected and promoted. There is an urgent need for a national law explicitly prohibiting child marriage and providing programs and services for its prevention and for responding to those who have experienced child marriage. This is to ensure that all Filipino children- boys and especially girls, will have the opportunity to grow and develop to their full potential, and the chance to decide when and with whom to marry.

We believe that policymaking is a crucial platform to create spaces for positive change and eventually address child marriage. Thus, we hope that the bill prohibiting child marriage and declaring its facilitation as a criminal act will be deliberated and acted upon by Congress.

Our young people, our girls, are not only leaders of tomorrow, but also partners of today. Let us create spaces where they can achieve their dreams.