Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday said the Philippines must criminalize child marriages now, citing "shocking statistics" that underscore the need to protect children, especially girls.
Citing data from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Hontiveros said the Philippines is ranked 12th among all countries in the world with the highest absolute number of child brides.
This was exacerbated by the pandemic, she said, as she urged her colleagues in the House of Representatives to come up with their own version of the Girls Not Brides Bill which the Senate passed on third and final reading in November 2020.
"If you look at child marriage, it’s totally contradictory to the child’s rights to a childhood and everything that attaches to it: makapagtapos ng pag-aaral, makahanap ng disenteng trabaho, magtaguyod ng sariling pamilya kung gusto niya at kung kelan niya gusto under his or her own terms," she said, noting this runs counter to the Philippines' commitments as signatory to the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The agreement said party states must put an end to early and forced marriages by 2030.
Child marriages happen in the Philippines for many reasons including poverty, armed conflict, and cultural pratices in various communities, among others, said Hontiveros who authored the bill and is head of the Senate Committe on Women and Children.
"Not to mention of course, yung mga mali or kulang na pagtingin natin sa bata," the reelectionist lawmaker told Summit Sandwich Sessions.
Under the measure, marriage between minors (persons below 18 years old) and marriage between a minor and an adult will be deemed illegal or a "public crime".
Whoever causes or participates in making child marriage happen -- whether incivil or church proceedings, or in any recognized traditional, cultural or customary manner -- will be fined at least P40,000 while facing a prison sentence between eight years and a day to 10 years.
"It’s been quite challenging but I am hopeful that we can get it passed," she said.