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Law Criminalising Child Marriage In The Philippines Removes Religious & Cultural Exemption

The new law, released to reporters on Thursday, 6 January, lays out prison terms of up to 12 years for marrying or cohabiting with anyone under 18. People arranging or solemnising underage unions also face the same penalty.

Cover image via FP

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Child marriage is now a criminal offence in The Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) 11596, titled "An Act Prohibiting The Practice of Child Marriage And Imposing Penalties For Violations Thereof", on 10 December last year. However, the Malacañang Palace released a copy of the document to reporters only on Thursday, 6 January 2022.

"The State affirms that marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of capacitated parties, and child betrothal and marriage shall have no legal effect," states the new law.

RA 11596 says that The Philippines now views child marriage as a practice constituting child abuse because it "debases, degrades, and demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of children".

The Southeast Asian country has the 12th-highest number of child marriages in the world. 17% of Filipino girls are married before they turn 18 and 2 % are married before reaching the age of 15.

Among the 17 regions in the Philippines, women in Soccsksargen, Eastern Visayas, and Mimaropa marry earlier than those in other regions, according to an editorial by SunStar.

A file photo shows a 14-year-old girl who was forced to marry a man she barely knew.

Image via Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

The law defines a child as any person below 18 years of age, or older

In terms of older, the law says it refers to those who are unable to take care and protect themselves from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation, or discrimination because of certain physical or mental conditions.

Meanwhile, child marriage refers to any marriage where one or both parties are children, and "solemnised in the civil or church proceedings, or in any recognised traditional, cultural, or customary manner".

In defining so, the new law has now removed religious and cultural exemptions for child marriage that were part of The Family Code of The Philippines, according to House deputy speaker and Bagong Henerasyon Representative Bernadette Herrera-Dy, who is one of the authors of the law.

"We made this law because there are some indigenous cultures that practice it regardless of whether it's prohibited or not in our country. It's not allowed under the Constitution, but there is a portion in the Family Code that somehow exempts them and the religious beliefs of our Muslim brothers and sisters. That's why we made a way to remove whatever slim exemption to observe the law no matter the culture, religion, that no minor can marry," she said, adding that now anybody can rescue a minor from this child abuse.

Additionally, any informal union or cohabitation outside of wedlock between an adult and a child, or between children is also forbidden now, as per the copy of RA11596 that is with SAYS.

However, some portions of the legislation have been suspended for one year to provide a one-year transitory period during which the law's penalty measures will affect Muslims and Indigenous peoples.

Under the law, the facilitation and solemnisation of child marriage and cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock shall be declared "unlawful and prohibited acts" and are deemed "public crimes"

Any person who causes, fixes, facilitates, or arranges a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than PHP40,000 (RM3,280).

However, should the perpetrator be an ascendant, parent, adoptive parent, step-parent, or guardian of the child, the penalty shall be prision mayor in its maximum period, a fine of not less than PHP50,000 (RM4099), and perpetual loss of parental authority.

Any person who performs or officiates a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000 (RM4099) in addition to perpetual disqualification from office if he or she is a public officer.

An adult partner who cohabits with a child outside wedlock shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000 (RM4099), and if the perpetrator is a public officer, then he or she shall perpetually be disqualified from holding office at the discretion of the courts.

Prision mayor is an "afflictive" type of penalty in terms of incarceration.

Its entire period is six years and one day to 12 years.

Its minimum period is six years and one day to eight years, the medium period being eight years and one day to 10 years, and the maximum period being 10 years and one day to 12 years.

Meanwhile, in Malaysia, the government in December last year refused to raise the minimum age of marriage for Muslim girls from 16 to 18:

Child marriage remains an epidemic in Malaysia: