Senate bill makes child marriages illegal

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    THE Senate on Monday afternoon passed on third and final reading a measure criminalizing child marriages and imposing jail terms and fines against adults involved in the early marriage of a child 17 years old and below.

    In approving Senate Bill No. 1373, 21 senators agreed to prohibit and declare child marriages as illegal. There was no negative vote and no abstention.

    Sen. Risa Hontiveros, principal author and sponsor of the bill, said she came up with the measure after finding out that child marriages, or those aged 17 below, in a global scale have reached alarming levels through the years.

    Hontiveros cited the United Nation’s Fund report showing that 750 million women and girls today were married before they reached their 18th birthday. Of the figure, two percent got married even before they turned 15 years old.

    In the Philippines, she said, child brides are estimated at around 726,000, making the country the 12th highest in the world in terms of absolute numbers.

    A 2019 survey by the Oxfam-led Improving Availability of Reproductive Health Services in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or the ARCHES Project, showed that 253 or 24 percent out of the 1,058 respondents coming from Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and the Basulta regions (Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) were cases of child marriage, and 97 percent of them involved girls.

    While poverty may be one of the reasons for child marriages, Hontiveros said a more subtle impulse behind the practice could be attributed to social norms in communities where entrenched gender inequality is common.

    She said a baseline study on violence against women conducted by Oxfam revealed that among the respondents from Maguindanao, social pressure is the main reason why girls enter into marriage early, many of them between the ages of 14 to 17.

    Under the bill, any person who causes, fixes, facilitates or arranges a child marriage shall be fined P40,000 or suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period.

    However, should the perpetrator be an ascendant, step parent or guardian of the minor, the penalty imposed shall be prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than P50,000 and the loss of parental authority over the minor.

    Any person who performs or officiates the formal rites of a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than P40,000 in addition to perpetual disqualification from office if he or she is a public officer.

    Under the measure, the Department of Social Work and Development shall be the lead duty-bearer in the formulation of the program and services, and in the implementation of the law.

    Aside from Hontiveros, the bill was also authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, minority leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Leila de Lima, Joel Villanueva, Imee Marcos, Juan Edgardo Angara and Francis Pangilinan.

    Likewise, the Senate yesterday approved the measure institutionalizing and increasing the teaching supplies allowance for public school teachers starting next year.