Child Marriage in the Philippines

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Child marriage is a marriage before the age of 18. According to the law, this is a human rights violation against both participants. Unfortunately, this is a widespread practice up to these days. This practice mostly leads to lifetime hardships and abuse, especially in very poor rural communities. In most places, this practice has been a long tradition. However, this tradition has caused the rise of almost “invisible” avenue for domestic exploitation and violence, most commonly to women. Rape, slavery, emotional and psychological abuse, and sexual slavery are seemingly seen as “normal” in this culture.

Typically, the girls are the most vulnerable victims of early marriage. They suffer the most of this harmful custom as they are less likely to finish schools due to their very early motherhood and domestic responsibility as a “partner”. Because of malnutrition and lack of healthy environment for their physical needs, mortality rate are also very high on young teenage girls who participate in childhood marriage. This is usually due to their early pregnancy and even to childbirth as their body is too young to handle this biological situation. In worst cases, in some parts of the world, girls that are under the age of 15 die during a sexual intercourse.

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According to UNICEF, there are around 21% of young women globally who get married before the age of 18. In total, every year there are approximately 650 million teenage girls who engage in early marriage or early domestic partnership. In the Philippines, 15% of girls are married before they reach their 18th birthday and 2% are married before the age of 15. The country also has the 12th highest number of child brides in the world at 726,000. Women in ARMM, Mimaropa and Soccsksargen marry earlier than those in other regions. This is also according to UNICEF. Meanwhile, the 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey said that one in 5 girls is a mother by 19 years old.

Some reasons for child pregnancy and early marriage in the Philippines

Many of these girls are forced to marry due to varying reasons. But the most common one trafficking especially on the rural regions. Many young girls who end up having very early motherhood and marriage, and even who ends up into extreme prostitution, usually come from different places of Visayas and Mindanao region. The most common destination for trafficked girls is places like Manila, Cebu, and Angeles City. Some also end up in popular tourist destinations such as Surigao, Boracay, and Bohol for commercial sex. Furthermore, the Philippines have also become very popular in the issue of “mail-order bride” which, of course, forces these girls into early marriage and domestic servitude.

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The second reason for early marriage and teenage pregnancy is religion. In the country, the religion that allows, and sometimes require, the practice of child marriage is Islam. In the Islamic law called Sharia, under age teens are allowed to marry each other. Furthermore, marriage of older adults into underage girls is also allowed in this religion. This is commonly due to poverty and also ignorance of the law. Poor parents see their girl child as a commodity because of their “dowry” system. This also seems like another form of human trafficking in which the parents can easily sell their daughter to whoever they please; regardless of how old is the man.

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Child marriage and pedophilia

Many girls who marry in a very early age suffer from their early separation from their parents and siblings. Many of them were helpless and innocent victims of religiously sanctioned sexual abuse. They are also usually deprived of education, normal childhood experiences, and even human rights. Sad to say this is still the case in many isolated areas of the country where this kind of religious custom is still being strongly imposed.

According to one article in the Manila Times by FR. Shay Cullen:

“Millions of little girls around the world are forcefully paired with older men when they are 11, 14 or 15 years of age. In other words, so-called “marriage” or “child bride-taking” is just a cover for gross indecent criminal pedophilia. It’s a front to justify child sex and escape the penalty of laws that forbid it. Most of the little girls were then raped in the act of consummation of the so-called marriage. This is one view in regard to child brides; others disagree.”

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He also added, “Cultural and religious practices seem to protect the arranged pedophilia. Some say it is not pedophilia if the man has sex with a nine year old provided it is approved by socio-cultural or religious custom. They say the child marriage phenomenon is driven by socio-cultural forces and economic considerations”.

And lastly, Shay Cullen stated, “In the Philippines where child abuse and child marriage also happen, only two percent of children are forced into a “marriage union,” called that to justify the pedophilia, apparently at times condoned by the local official. The child victim is left helpless and abused by a live-in partner with the consent of the relatives and mother in some cases. He provides money for the family. There is also the “areglo” system of payoffs where some local officials, for a fee, arrange a financial compensation between the sexual abuser and the parents of the child. No legal complaint is filed and he gets away with the abuse and the community remains silent and condones it.”

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Criminalization of religious custom; is this the solution?

Meanwhile, two lawmakers namely Representative Edcel Lagman and Representative Bernadette Herrera Dy filed House Bill (HB) No. 8440 last October 10, 2018. It is a bill that deems the act of child marriage, its facilitation, and solemnization as “public crimes.” According to Section 4 of the said bill, “These acts are grave forms of child abuse and exploitation as they gravely threaten and endanger the survival and normal development of children physically, emotionally, and psychologically and can be initiated by any concerned individual”. In addition, Section 5 states that a “child marriage would be considered void ab initio or void from the beginning”.

Furthermore, Representative Bernadette Dy, the chair of the House committee on women and gender equality, urged the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to “work hard on generating consensus and binding changes on marriages practices.” She said in a statement, “It would greatly help if the NCMF and NCIP are able to convince the imams and religious leaders of the IPs to reform marriage practices”.




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Alter Picar

Alter Picar is a writer, translator, self-published author, songwriter / musician, community worker, non-profit organization manager (volunteer), mental health advocate / educator, librarian, and organic gardener.



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