March 8 marks the celebration of International Women’s Day. Although there have been many improvements since the day was first commemorated, there are still a lot of gaps that need to be addressed. In the Philippines, one such important gap is violence against women and girls, a largely unheard of or neglected problem.
The country boasts of a vibrant policy environment for women and gender equality. But the situation of young women and girls demonstrates the opposite:
- One in 10 young women 15-19 years old have begun childbearing. Twenty-four babies are born to teen mothers every hour. There are 183,000 adolescents giving birth in the country annually. And although the birth rate among 15-19-year-olds has been decreasing, there has been a 63%-increase in births among 10-14 year-olds since 2011. Yet, minors have limited access to critical reproductive health information and services.
- Globally, the Philippines ranks 12th in terms of absolute number of child marriages and unions. There were approximately 700,000 of cases of child marriages in the country as of 2013. Although the minimum legal age for marriage is 18, marriage of children is allowed in many parts of the country.
- One in four children in the Philippines experience sexual violence. The Philippines has one of the youngest age for determining statutory rape.
- The Philippines is the global epicenter of online sexual exploitation of children. In 2018, there were more than 600,000 sexualized photos and videos of children coming from the country, making it the top source of child sexual exploitation materials.
Girls are too young to have children. It is too soon for them to marry. They deserve a safe environment. They are not for sale.
This Women’s Day, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development urges lawmakers to take meaningful legislative action that will put an end to violence against women and girls. As laws have a critical role in shaping policies and practices, and even in addressing cultural and attitudinal transformation, we enjoin members of Congress to act on the following legislative measures:
- prevention of adolescent pregnancy bill, which institutionalizes a national program to address the concern and provides social protection for adolescents who are already parents, as well as the full implementation of Reproductive Health Law, which mandates the Department of Education to ensure comprehensive sexuality education throughout the country;
- prohibiting child marriage, declaring its facilitation as a criminal act, and providing social protection for those who have experienced it;
- raising the age for determining statutory rape from below 12 to below 16; and
- ensuring protection of children from online sexual abuse and exploitation.
The roots of violence against women and girls run deep. But we have been marching toward ending this cycle and addressing this issue with conviction. If we are successful in protecting girls and creating a society where their rights are respected, we will achieve an equal and just society.
We end the cycle by being #GirlDefenders.