MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law criminalizing and imposing penalties on child marriage, which has affected hundreds of thousands of Filipino youth.
“The State affirms that marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of capacitated parties, and child betrothal and marriage shall have no legal effect,” reads Republic Act 11596 that Duterte signed on Dec. 10 and Malacañang released on Thursday.
The law defines child marriage as a union where one or both parties are below 18 years old or are of legal age but unable to fully protect themselves from abuse, neglect, or cruelty because of a physical or mental disability or condition.
Any person who facilitates or arranges child marriage “shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period” and a fine of not less than P40,000, said the law.
But if the perpetrator is a parent, adoptive or step parent, or guardian of the child, the penalty shall be “prision mayor in its maximum period” and a fine of at least P50,000.
The same penalty applies to those who perform or officiate a child marriage, and an adult partner who cohabits with a child outside wedlock.
Prision mayor carries a prison term of 6 years and 1 day to 12 years.
Anyone who produces or tampers with documents to misrepresent the age of a child shall also be liable under the law.
“If the perpetrator is a public officer, he or she shall be dismissed from the service and may be perpetually disqualified from holding office,” it said.
WHY THE LAW IS NEEDED
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, principal author and sponsor of the measure, said child brides in the Philippines were estimated at around 726,000, the 12th highest in the world.
Citing a 2019 Oxfam survey, she noted 253 or 24 percent out of 1,058 respondents from Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were in child marriages, and 97 percent of them were girls.
Hontiveros said poverty and gender inequality could be spurring child marriages. She said girls are falsely seen as contributing less to the household and are expected to eventually leave to join the family of their husbands, making them of less value than boys.
RA 11596 delegates responsibilities to government agencies to “create an enabling social environment where the practice of child marriage shall not thrive.”
“The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building and shall therefore protect and promote their empowerment. This entails the abolition of the unequal structures and practices that perpetuate discrimination and inequality,“ the law says.