Legislators commit to ending child marriage in PH through policy reform

Quezon City, October 1—Women legislators committed to support the bill seeking to protect children, especially girls, from child, early, and forced marriage during the launch of the Alliance of #GirlDefenders: Creating Spaces Together to End Violence against Women and Girls at Sulo Hotel.

Among the legislators who supported the campaign were Rep. Malou Acosta-Alba of 1st District of Bukidnon, who also chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Women and Gender Equality; Kalinga party-list representative Irene Gay Saulog; Gabriela Women’s Party representative Arlene Brosas; and Kabataan party-list representative Sarah Elago.

“As warriors and Girl Defenders, we will prioritize this bill in the 18th Congress. We owe it to young people and children to have this bill enacted,” said Representative Malou Acosta-Alba, who also chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Women and Gender Equality.

The alliance of #GirlDefenders, composed of multisectoral representatives from the government – both executive and Congress – and civil society organizations was launched in time for the celebration of International Day of the Girl on October 11. This alliance serves to safeguard and defend the rights of girls to have a violence-free future by advocating for policy reforms that will prohibit child marriage.

Advocates from Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur shared that changing social norms is the most challenging space to create. “While I find it very challenging as a Muslim woman to be advocating to end child marriage which is culturally acceptable in Maranao culture, I am proud to be a #GirlDefender creating spaces at the level of the community by making young people aware of their rights” said Sittie Nur Dayhannah Mohamad, project officer of Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation, a Lanao del Sur-based civil society organization advocating women’s rights and empowerment.

Youth advocates from Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur appealed to legislators to push for a policy that will “back girls up and allow them to say no when they are forced to get married.”

Child marriage in the Philippines
The Philippines ranks 12th in terms of absolute numbers of child marriages globally. In developing countries, 1 in 4 girls will get married before reaching the age of 18, according to the United Nations Population Fund. While the Family Code of the Philippines sets 18 years old as the legal age of marriage, Muslim communities and some indigenous groups allow the practice of child marriage at as early as puberty based on written and unwritten laws and as a cultural practice. Child marriage has serious negative impacts on the health and development of girls.

Prohibition of child marriage pushed
Legislators in attendance committed to become #GirlDefenders in the policy arena and collectively pledged to support the bill prohibiting and criminalizing child marriage. Currently, there are bills filed in both houses of Congress prohibiting the facilitation and solemnization of child marriage, making it a criminal offense. In the House of Representatives, two versions were filed by Representatives Bernadetter Herrera-Dy and Edcel Lagman as well as Alfred Vargas while Senator Risa Hontiveros filed the Senate version. Aside from prohibiting the facilitation of child marriage, the bill institutionalizes social protection for those who have experienced child marriage.