PCW welcomes passage of law prohibiting child marriage

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The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) welcomes the law prohibiting child marriage through the enactment of Republic Act 11596 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on

December 10, 2021 and released on January 6, 2022.

The law defines a child as a person below 18 years old or anyone of legal age but unable to fully protect oneself from abuse, neglect, or cruelty because of a physical or mental disability or condition. It then refers to child marriage as “any marriage entered into where one or both parties are children and solemnized in civil or church proceedings, or in any recognized traditional, cultural or customary manner. It shall include an informal union or cohabitation outside of wedlock between an adult and a child, or between children.”

Under RA 11596, the facilitation and solemnization of child marriage, as well as cohabitation of adults with children shall be penalized. Thus, a person who causes, fixes, facilitates, or arranges a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period or up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of not less than PHP 40,000. Should the perpetrator be an ascendant, step-parent, or guardian of the minor, the penalty will constitute a 12-year imprisonment, a fine of not less than PHP 50,000, and the perpetual loss of parental authority over the minor. Anyone who produces or alters documents to misrepresent the age of a child shall also be liable [Section 4(a)].

Individuals who perform or officiate the child marriage, as well as adults who cohabit with a child outside of marriage shall also be penalized [Sections 4(b) and (c)].

Section 5 of the law classifies these as public crimes, which means that complaints could be initiated by any concerned individual.

PCW Executive Director Atty. Kristine Rosary E. Yuzon-Chaves lauded the passage of this landmark law, which the PCW supported by acting as resource person in Congressional hearings and technical meetings, providing inputs and recommendations through policy recommendations, and actively seeking the support of lawmakers and relevant committees.

“The law finally recognizes child marriage as a crime across the Philippines. It addresses legal gaps that allow this practice that threatens the health, well-being, and development of children. With this enactment, we can protect girls from being trapped in unwanted marriage, early pregnancy, violence, and other violations to their human rights and dignity,” said Atty. Yuzon-Chaves.

As discussed by PCW in its position papers on the matter, the law upholds the State’s commitment under the Magna Carta of Women and other international laws. For one, Section 19 of MCW states that “the State shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and shall ensure… the same rights to choose freely a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full

consent. The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect.”

Relevant international instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which were ratified by the Philippines, also prohibit child marriages. The CEDAW states that the “betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory”.

Why Ending Child Marriage is a Must

A law prohibiting child marriage is a significant stride in the Philippines, where one in six Filipino girls get married before reaching the age of 18. Currently, the country ranks 12th worldwide in terms of absolute number of child marriages and unions.

In the Philippines, the legal age of marriage under the Family Code is eighteen years old. However, in some religions and cultures, child marriage is practiced. Some allow the marriage of a female at the age of puberty, which is presumed upon reaching the age of fifteen. However, many children’s rights advocates argue that early child marriage has adverse long-term physical, psychological, and emotional effects and will curtail the development and attainment of a child’s full potential, among others.

Hence, RA 11596 can be a step towards protecting children from these impacts. It also aims to conquer gender inequalities or norms that tend to diminish girls, normalize gender-based violence, and perpetuate patriarchal notions on control of women and girls’ sexuality. The law can also help correct the practice of sending girls to marry instead of schools because they are anticipated to leave their families and are deemed to be of less value than boys.

Moreover, the passage of this law is timely given the rise in the number of teenage mothers during the pandemic, now considered an urgent national priority.

Implementation and transitory provisions

The law mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development to prepare its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) within 60 days from its effectivity, in coordination with the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Council for the Welfare of Children, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and one Civil Society Organization representative from each of the following sectors: women, children, Muslim Filipinos, and indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples. The IRR shall also be crafted in consultation with other concerned government agencies and stakeholders.

RA 11596 likewise mandates the NCMF and the NCIP to extensively undertake measures and programs in their respective jurisdictions to ensure full compliance with the law within one (1) year from its effectivity. During the one-year transition period, the application of Section 4 (a) and (b) and Section 5 of the law to Muslim Filipinos and indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples shall be suspended.

The law will take effect within 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette, or a newspaper of general circulation.

Full text of the law is available here (https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/downloads/2021/12dec/20211210-RA-11596-RRD.pdf).