INTERNATIONAL humanitarian and development organization Oxfam welcomed on Wednesday, May 19, the House of Representatives Committee on Women and Gender Equality’s (CWGE) decision to approve in principle a proposed bill seeking to end child marriage in the country.
The committee approved House Bills 1486, 3899, 5670 and 7922 in principle and directed its secretariat to draft a substitute bill that will be up for consideration and approval at the next hearing.
A bill addressing the legal loopholes that allow child marriage in the Philippines was already passed by the Senate last year. For the first time, its counterpart bills at the House of Representatives were discussed in Wednesday’s committee hearing.
Jeanette Dulawan, Gender Justice program manager of Oxfam Pilipinas, shared with legislators how child marriage is a grave form of child abuse.
“Child marriage is a grave violation of human rights and a serious public health issue,” Dulawan said.
She said the proposed bills ending child marriage would strengthen child protection mechanisms to prevent further acts of violence and abuse.
“In Oxfam, we believe that ending child marriage requires a coordinated multi-sectoral approach that will engage girls, boys, parents, teachers, national and local authorities and decision makers, and a broad range of other stakeholders,” Dulawan said.
She said this is why the bill must include a provision requiring duty bearers to ensure that women and girls are not only consulted, but are able to participate fully in all stages of decision-making.
Among the challenges faced by advocacy groups now are harmful social and gender norms underpinning child marriage.
“Oxfam Philippines recent research looked into the social norms and beliefs towards sexual and reproductive health of selected communities and found strong evidence that prevailing negative attitudes and gendered expectations are harming women and girls,” Dulawan said.
“As with other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and poverty. Early marriage is seen as a way to ‘sanction’ girls for premarital sexual activity and pregnancy outside marriage,” she added.
Dulawan said among the key learnings of Oxfam’s programs, particularly in conflict-affected Mindanao, is that it is important to form partnerships with established community members who can deliver culturally appropriate and sustainable responses to address such issues.
Child marriage is still being practiced in some parts of the Philippines, with the Philippines ranking 12th worldwide among countries with the highest numbers of child marriages.
Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy, one of the authors of the bills, said there is an urgent need for a national law explicitly prohibiting child marriage and providing programs and services for prevention and response.
“[This is to] ensure that all Filipino children have the opportunity to grow and develop to their full potential,” she said.
House Committee on Women and Gender Equality Chair Malou Acosta-Alba, who presided over the hearing, acknowledged that every year, 12 million girls from all over the world are married before the age of 18. “That’s 23 girls every minute,” she said.
Oxfam Pilipinas noted that majority of the resource persons invited for Wednesday’s hearing supported the approval of the bills. The group is optimistic that the substitute bill will soon be approved. This allows the Philippines to be one step closer to enacting a law ending child marriages.
Oxfam is a part of the “Girl Defenders” alliance, which includes lawmakers, youth campaigners, women’s rights organizations, and government agencies such as the Commission on Human Rights and the Philippine Commission on Women.
The “Girl Defenders” campaign is supported by the Creating Spaces Project implemented by the Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation (AMDF), United Youth of the Philippines-Women (UnYPhil-Women), Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) with support from Oxfam. (PR)