For the first time in the history of Congress, a bill seeking to end child marriage in the Philippines was sponsored in the Senate on the third day of the observance of National Women’s Month. Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of Senate Bill No. 1373 delivered her sponsorship of the bill seeking to prohibit child marriage and declare it as illegal, penalizing parties who cause, fix, and facilitate or arrange the marriage of children or those below 18 years old.
In the afternoon before the sponsorship, PLCPD, along with other #GirlDefenders from Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and National Capital Region, had an audience with the senator, declaring their gratitude and support and expressing their commitment to contribute to ending child marriage in the country. The advocates shared the struggles of girls in their own communities who went through the experience of forced marriages and the sad reality that many duty bearers have been silent about this problem.
According to UNICEF, there are 750 million women today who were married before reaching 18 years old, 2% of them were married off before reaching their 15th birthday.
Despite a national law that sets the minimum age for marriage at 18, the Philippines is currently the 12th country in the world with the highest number of child brides.
Senator Hontiveros – who also chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality as well as PLCPD – recognizes that the proposed law may cause an anxiety for some sectors that may have held child marriage as an established practice. But “…culture continues to evolve, to grow with us human beings who are fully aware of present realities and necessities, accepting of new knowledge and belated realizations…[a]nd among the learnings that we are duty-bound to acknowledge is that our children are our future, and all that we do must be in their best interest,” she said in her speech.
Ending child marriage is one of Senator Hontiveros and PLCPD’s priority legislative agenda under women’s rights, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the prevention of violence against women and girls. At the House of Representatives, a counterpart bill was jointly filed by Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy and Rep. Edcel Lagman. The bill was first filed in the 17th Congress, during the International Day of the Girl in 2018. This is the farthest that any bill attempting to address this issue has reached in the history of Congress.