Senate approves on second reading bill declaring child marriage as illegal

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 12 2020 06:57 PM | Updated as of Oct 12 2020 09:47 PM

Children are forced to skip school and work to help their families make ends meet in poor communities around the country, including this one at the Baseco Compound in Tondo, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - (UPDATE) The Senate on Monday passed on second reading a bill that declares child marriage as illegal in the Philippines.

Under Senate Bill No. 1373, any person may be imprisoned and fined should he or she either facilitate the marriage, or force a minor to get married.

"This is a very happy bill. It coincides with our move to curb child pregnancies... to bring up the age of consent to 16," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said in plenary.

"I think this is good for children," he said.

Under the law, parents or relatives who allow their kin aged 17 and below to get married may be imprisoned and fined at least P50,000.

Non-relatives and the officiator of the illegal marriage will also face possible incarceration and a fine not less than P40,000.

"The prohibited act of child marriage, its facilitation and solemnization, are considered public crimes and can be initiated by any concerned individual," the bill read.

The measure also mandates the following government offices to craft programs "in order to prevent and eventually end child marriages and protect the children from this form of abuse":

- Department of Social Welfare and Development
- Department of Justice
- Department of the Interior and Local Government
- Department of Education
- Department of Health
- Family And Executive Courts
- Philippine Commission on Women
- Commission on Human Rights
- National Commission on Muslim Filipinos
- National Commission for Indigenous People
- Council for the Welfare of Children

"Duty-bearers should ensure that women and girls are not only consulted, but are able to participate fully in every step and stage of decision-making," the bill read.

"We are so close to making child marriages illegal," said Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality chair Risa Hontiveros, who sponsored the bill in plenary.

"Ngayong may pandemya, mas marami pang batang babae ang mapipilitang ipakasal para maibsan daw ang pampinansiyal na problema," she said.

(During the pandemic, more young girls were reportedly forced to marry to allegedly reduce their families' financial problems.)

A recent study showed that cases of abuse - especially among women - rose worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic, when most people were forced to stay indoors to avoid the spread of the disease.

The Department of Justice has recorded 279,166 cases of child exploitation between March 1, 2020 and May 24, 2020, which is 264 percent higher than the 76,561 reports made in the same period in 2019.

"When you're on quarantine, you're presuming that you'll be safe," Hontiveros said in an online forum in June.

"But that is not the case for too large a number of our sisters and children. The numbers may even be underreported also because of the pressures brought about by the pandemic and the quarantines," she said.