The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM)-6 commended President Rodrigo Roa Duterte for signing Republic Act 11596, otherwise known as “An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage,” which criminalizes the union of an adult with a minor.
Before the passage of RA 11596, the legal age of marriage under the Family Code was 18 years old.
But in some cultures, child marriage was and is still being practiced. Others allow the marriage of a female at the age of puberty or right after menarche. With this, children’s rights to develop their full potential are hampered.
According to the 2017 Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey, 1 in 6 of Filipino girls is married before reaching 18 or the legal age of majority.
This phenomenon of child marriage is practiced in indigenous and Muslim communities in the country.
POPCOM’s advocacy for the strong protection of children as the most vulnerable sector of the country has finally been heard. The law addresses the various issues of the Filipino girls in particular unplanned and unintended pregnancies due to abuse, early marriages, and cohabitation with adult males, among others.
“We have likewise noted that marriages and unions involving minor children diminish the bodily autonomy of girls, and are incompatible with basic human rights as enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Philippines signed in 1948,” Undersecretary and POPCOM Executive Director Dr. Juan A. Perez III pointed out.
Usec Perez also believes that marriages involving minors will also expose them to further unintended pregnancies, lead them to have families and unions that they are ill-prepared to face, especially the challenge of rearing children, and lock them into the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.
“We are happy that the banning of child marriages has been enacted into law, and we are expecting the strict implementation of this mandate. However, let us remember that the legal age of consent including sexual consent in the country is still twelve (12) years old. This means that an adult may still have sex with a minor which may still result in early pregnancy physical, mental, emotional and psychological abuse, “said POPCOM Regional Director Harold Alfred P. Marshall.
Marshall also stressed that POPCOM is extending more effort in addressing early pregnancy and its repeated cases, and promoting adolescents’ well-being by providing timely, useful, relevant information and referring these adolescents to service providers when needed.
RA 11596 is a strategic policy measure supportive of the Social Protection Program for Adolescent Mothers and their Children (SPPAMC), which POPCOM and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are mandated to develop and implement under the 2021 and 2022 General Appropriations Act.
The SPPAMC is now being implemented on a pilot basis to protect adolescent mothers from the risks and vulnerabilities of early pregnancies.