CHILD marriage is detestable. It deprives a victim, say a girl, from living her childhood.

According to international group Girls Not Brides, 17 percent of Filipino girls are married before they turn 18 and two percent are married before reaching the age of 15.

“The Philippines has the 10th highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 in the world–808,000,” the London-based nongovernment organization reported.

Among the 17 regions in the Philippines, women in Soccsksargen, Eastern Visayas and Mimaropa marry earlier than those in other regions.

Marrying or entering into an informal union before reaching the age of 18 is referred to as child marriage, which the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) describes as a human rights violation.

“Child marriage can lead to a lifetime of suffering. Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence. Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s, and their children are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life,” Unicef said.

The Philippines is taking a step to end child marriage when President Rodrigo Duterte signed on Dec. 10, 2021 Republic Act (RA) 11596, or “An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties for Violations Thereof.”

Malacañang released a copy of RA 11596 only on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022 to reporters, bearing the President’s signature.

Cebu-based Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB) lauded the passage of the law, saying it is a “positive development in our collective effort to end all forms of abuse and exploitation against Filipino children.”

Violators of the new law can face jail time up to 10 years and pay fines up to P50,000. RA 11596 imposes penalties on facilitation and solemnization of child marriage, and the cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock.

According to Girls Not Brides, child marriage is “driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys.”

Child marriage in the Philippines is worsened by the trafficking, religion, level of education and adolescent pregnancy.

In the religion aspect, Girls Not Brides said Presidential Decree 1083 (the Code of Muslim Personal Laws), which is based on Sharia law, allows marriage at the age of 15 for boys and at the onset of puberty for girls.

“The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic and the only country in the world that does not allow divorce. This places young married girls in a particularly vulnerable position,” it said.

Non-Muslims in the country are permitted by the Family Code to marry only after reaching the age of 18.

CLB told SunStar Cebu Opinion that it has “consistently called for the passage of legislative measures to prohibit and eliminate all forms of harmful traditional practices, including the practice of early and forced marriages.”

“With the recent enactment of the law, it would categorically put an end to the long-standing justification of allowing minors to marry at young ages in Bangsamoro as previously allowed in their special laws. The prohibition against child marriage allows our children to forge their own paths freely,” it said.

Section 13 of RA 11596 states that decrees, such as Presidential Decree 1083, inconsistent with the new law are either repealed or modified. The new law mandates the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos to include in its program to raise awareness in Muslim communities “on the impacts and effects of child marriage in the overall health and development of children, monitor and report cases of child marriages in communities under its jurisdiction.”

The Department of Social Welfare and Development is tasked to lead the implementation of the new law and coordinate with other government agencies.

CLB said RA 11596 is a significant addition to the numerous child protections laws in the Philippines, and the group will “continue to endeavor in strengthening existing laws and lobby for legislation to curb other crimes against children such as human trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children.”

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a country to protect a child.

The eradication of child marriage in the Philippines remains to be seen. For sure, it entails a lot of work.