Earlier this week, the upper house of the Philippines Congress unanimously passed a bill declaring child marriage as illegal
A copy of the bill sighted by SAYS states that "child marriage is an act of child abuse as it debases, degrades, and demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of children".
The bill, called Senate Bill No 1373 or the 'Girls not Brides Act', defines children as persons under the age of 18 or those unable to fully take care of themselves or protect themselves from abuse, exploitation, or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability or condition.
It defines child marriage as any marriage where one or both parties are children and solemnised in civil or church proceedings, or in any recognised traditional, cultural, or customary manner.
The bill, that was passed on 9 November, also punishes any person who causes, fixes, facilitates, or arranges a child marriage
The Senate approved the Girls Not Brides Act by voting 21-0.
The bill states that any child marriage is considered void from the start and doesn't need an annulment.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who sponsored the bill, said:
"The issue of child, early, and forced marriages is one that is largely invisible to us here in Metro Manila, but it is a tragic reality for scores of young girls who are forced by economic circumstances and cultural expectations to shelve their own dreams, begin families they are not ready for, and raise children even when their own childhoods have not yet ended.
"Today we give our girls a chance to dream, a chance to define their future according to their own terms. We defend their right 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."
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has since called the bill to criminalise child marriage a "step forward" in the protection of children
"The CHR joins the proponents of this bill in giving every child, especially young girls, an opportunity to be free from tragic marriages – oftentimes driven by economic and cultural pressures," said CHR Spokesperson Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, as reported by Manila Bulletin.
"Let us instead provide better opportunities for children through better access to education and self-growth so that they may carve for themselves the future that they aspire and deserve, with support from a society that equally wishes them the best."
In the Philippines, child marriage is a big issue
There are an estimated 726,000 child brides in the Philippines, making it the 12th highest in the world in terms of absolute numbers, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
15% of Filipino girls are married before their 18th birthday and 2% are married before the age of 15.