The Senate unanimously voted to approve the "Girls Not Brides Act" (Senate Bill No. 1373), which makes child marriages a public crime in the Philippines, on Monday, Nov. 9.
Twenty-one senators voted in favor of the bill, with zero abstentions and negative votes.
The bill, which was penned and sponsored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, aims to empower women and girls by "abolishing unequal structures and practices that support discrimination and inequality against women and children." Anyone who forces or allows a minor to get married will face fines of up to P50,000 or imprisonment.
In the Philippines, a “child” as defined in R.A. No. 9344 is a person under the age of 18 years.
The bill notes that any relative or kin who arranges a minor in marriage will be fined P40,000 or face minimum period of imprisonment. While step-parents or guardians of the child will lose parental authority of the minor and will be fined with not less than P50,000. Those who officiates the marriage rites will also serve time in prison and pay a fine of not less than P40,000.
"This gender inequality plays a key role in making girls disproportionately affected by this cultural practice. Female children are falsely seen as contributing less to the household, and is expected to eventually leave to join the family of her husband making them of less value than male children," Hontiveros said.
The senator also added, "This bill considers the act of child marriage a public crime, and penalizes any person who facilitates and solemnizes this union. Being conscious of existing cultural practices, the bill introduces a culturally-appropriate program and services that will be responsive to the needs of those who will be affected by this law."
In the plenary after voting, Hontiveros said, "Today we give our girls a chance to dream, a chance to define their future according to their own terms." She noted the importance of children's rights 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.
Hontiveros cited in a report by the United Nation's Fund that there are about 750 million child brides in the world, of which two percent of the women and girls are below 15 years old when they got married.
The Philippines is the 12th highest in the world in terms of child brides with an estimate of 726,000.
Photo from Shutterstock