House bill seeks to criminalize child marriage in PH

MANILA, Philippines – Two lawmakers in the House of Representatives want to criminalize child marriage, including its facilitation and solemnization, in the Philippines. 

Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera Dy and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman filed House Bill (HB) No. 8440 on Wednesday, October 10, a copy of which was sent to reporters on Thursday, October 11. 

The bill would declare the act of child marriage, its facilitation, and solemnization as “public crimes.” (READ: Ending child marriages, teenage pregnancies, poverty

“These acts are grave [forms] of child abuse and exploitation as they gravely threaten and endanger the survival and normal development of children physically, emotionally, and psychologically and can be initiated by any concerned individual,” said Section 4 of HB 8440. 

Section 5 also states that a child marriage would be considered void ab initio or void from the beginning.

HB 8440 would repeal all other laws, decrees, executive orders, issuances, rules, and regulations that would be "inconsistent" with its provisions.

The United Nations Population Fund said that more than 650 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday, while 21% of young women aged 20 to 24 years old around the globe were child brides.  

In the Philippines, the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey said that one in 5 girls is a mother by 19 years old. (READ: When a child raises a child)

Lawyer Virginia Lacsa Suarez said child marriage usually happens in Muslim and indigenous peoples communities in the Philippines.

The Code of Muslim Personal Laws says a girl may be married at the age of puberty or the onset of first menstruation. A girl is presumed to have reached the age of puberty by 15. The minimum age of marriage for boys is at 15 years old. (READ: [DASH of SAS] Muslim religious leaders affirm 'sublime status' of women)

What would be the punishment? If enacted into law, HB 8440 would punish solemnizing officers and parents of children who arranged and consented to a child marriage.

For solemnizing officers:

For parents:

What are advocates saying? Pro-children’s rights advocates are backing HB 8440 and are calling on lawmakers to pass it. 

Youth leader Nor-Asiah Macasilang from Lanao del Sur said that while she is not a victim herself, child marriage is prevalent in her community. 

"In our place, when your parents [tell] you to marry someone, then you cannot just say that you can’t marry that man because I don’t like him. No. Once they [tell] you that you have to marry someone, even if you don’t know him and even if you don’t know his identity, then you will have to [marry him],” said Macasilang in a press conference on HB 8440 on Wednesday.

“They are forcing you to marry someone because they thought that will be good for you, that will be good for your future. But they’re not thinking that it will ruin your life in the future. Because you are not actually financially, emotionally, and physically ready, because you’re still young and you’re not in the right place to think [about] your future,” she added. 

Suarez also said culture should no longer be used as an excuse for abuse. 

“It should not be used to justify violence. Kasi palagay ko, 'di tayo magtatalo-talo when it comes to how child marriage is affecting the health, all aspects eh sa buhay ng isang bata,” she said.

(I think that we will all agree on how child marriage affects the health and all other aspects of the life of a child.) – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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