MANILA (UPDATE) - The Senate on Monday unanimously approved a bill that criminalizes child marriages in the Philippines.
Under the "Girls not Brides bill," any person who will force or allow a minor to get married will face fines or imprisonment.
"The issue of child, early and forced marriages is one that is largely invisible to us here in Metro Manila, but it is a tragic reality for scores of young girls who are forced by economic circumstances and cultural expectations to shelve their own dreams, begin families they are not ready for, and raise children even when their own childhoods have not yet ended," Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the bill's author, said in plenary after the voting.
"Today we give our girls a chance to dream, a chance to define their future according to their own terms," she said.
"We defend their right to declare when they are ready to begin their families. We tell them their health matters to us, their education matters to us. We give them a fighting shot," she said.
Under the bill, relatives who allow their kin aged 17 and below to get married may be jailed and fined at least P50,000, while non-relatives who facilitate the wedding of a minor may also face possible imprisonment 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
In the Philippines, 1 in every 6 girls marry before the legal age of 18, according to data from the United Nations Population Fund.
At least 26 percent of these girls who are forced to marry "experience domestic violence and abuse," the UNFPA said in its campaign video against child marriage.
The Philippines is the 12th country in the world in terms of the numbers of child marriages with more than 700,000 so far as of Tuesday, Hontiveros told ANC's Headstart.
Some 15 percent of Filipino girls are married before their 18th birthday and 2 percent are married before they turn 15, the senator said.
"Let's let children be children, let's respect and uphold their rights. Let's spare them from plights of children in the Philippines today including child marriage," she said.