VARIOUS government agencies, civil society organizations and youth groups pushed for the wider information dissemination and implementation of the Prohibition of Child Marriage (PCM) Law in the country on Thursday.
The call is also timely following the recent prosecution of the Socorro “cult” leaders and members involved in the facilitation and solemnization of forced marriages of 21 minors in Surigao del Norte as the country marks the 18 days of activism to end violence against women and girls’ campaign, which kicked off last November 25.
“We have seen how child marriage deprives girls of their rights to health, education, safety, and wellbeing. When a child gives birth at an early age, we are not just putting the life of the young mother at risk but also her child. We don’t want this to happen to any child. The Socorro case is an example of why we need to strengthen the law's implementation prohibiting child marriage,” Oxfam Pilipinas Gender Justice Portfolio Manager Jeanette Kindipan-Dulawan said.
The Socorro case is the first time the Prohibition on Child Marriage Law will be enforced since it was signed into law in December 2021.
Authorities ordered earlier this month the arrest of the Socorro group leader and its members for 21 cases of human rights violation, including the facilitation and solemnization of child marriage and child abuse.
Programs for victims-survivors
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the lead agency mandated to implement RA 11596, also known as the Prohibition of Child Marriage (PCM) Law, emphasized the importance of providing interventions for the victims-survivors of child marriages, particularly for the 21 minors involved in the Socorro case.
“The protection of children starts at home, but when it’s not fulfilled that’s when the government intervenes. The DSWD has 11 “home for the girls” where we take custodies of victim-survivors until they are able to re-integrate back to their communities,” Department of Social Welfare and Development Assistant Secretary Atty. Elaine F. Fallarcuna said.
She also emphasized that the program management bureau of the agency is already crafting specific programs and services for victims-survivors and the program will be pilot-tested in the Caraga region where the Socorro case emanated.
The law states that the government should provide comprehensive, inclusive, and age-and-culturally-appropriate programs and services. These include legal, health, psychosocial, educational, livelihood and skills development, temporary shelter, and other assistance to protect victims-survivors of child marriage and their offspring.
Earlier, the DSWD led the crafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Law, which provided specific programs that will help ensure its full and meaningful implementation. The said IRR was published in the Official Gazette last July.
The event also gathered commitments from various stakeholders, including the National Commission on Indigenous People, the National Commission of Muslim Filipinos, and representatives from the Bangsamoro Government, among others.
Member of Parliament (MP) Atty. Laisa Alamia of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority emphasized the commitment of the Bangsamoro Government towards ending child marriage, including its implementation of the regional campaign against child early and forced marriage under the Bangsamoro Women Commission, Ministry of Social Welfare and Development’s child and Youth program, and the Ministry of Health’s intervention in decreasing early pregnancies.
“Protecting our religious and cultural diversity can only be practiced fully alongside efforts to protect the rights of women and children. Doing so heightens our appreciation of our faith—our Agama and our community as we see the inherent value of each person regardless of their beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, expression, social class, and heritage.” Atty. Alamia added.
The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) also expressed the need to strengthen the information dissemination of the said law, particularly in remote and far-flung communities.
"Now that we have the law, we must act with even more urgency to fully implement it so that every girl’s right to protection is fulfilled. We need to work together to bridge the information gap on the law's provisions and programs. The Bridging Information Gap or BIG Project is one of platforms we have to help in the implementation of the law. We owe it to our children; the PCM Law is for them,” PLCPD Executive Director Rom Dongeto said.
Oxfam Pilipinas and PLCPD are members of the Girl Defenders, a multi-sectoral alliance of legislators, civil society, national government agencies, women’s rights organizations, and youth advocates who contributed to the passage of the law ending child marriage. Since 2017, the alliance members have been working together, from lobbying for the law's enactment to ensuring its full implementation.
Currently, Oxfam Pilipinas and PLCPD are implementing a project called “Bridging the Information Gap on the Prohibition of Child Marriage in the Philippines and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.” It also aims to strengthen collaboration with the government, civil society organizations, and youth groups to address the information dissemination gap on the PCM Law and its IRR.
According to the PCM law, any person who facilitates the marriage of a minor can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and subject to paying a fine of not less than P40,000.
If the violator is found to be a parent or guardian, the penalty increases to up to 12 years of imprisonment and they will be subject to paying a fine of not less than P50,000.
An adult partner who cohabits with a child will also suffer the maximum imprisonment penalty and a fine of not less than P50,000.
The same penalty also applies to any person who officiates or performs a child marriage. If the perpetrator is a public official, the person may also be dismissed and perpetually be disqualified from holding public office.
Latest data showed that the Philippines has the 12th highest rate of child marriage in the world, with one in every six girls getting married before the age of 18. PR