Philippine Muslim Leaders Urge Repeal of New Law Criminalizing Child Marriage

Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato City, Philippines
2022-01-07
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Philippine Muslim Leaders Urge Repeal of New Law Criminalizing Child Marriage Noraida Abo, executive director of UnYPhil-Women, an organization based in the Southern Philippines, says Muslim girls should be protected from child marriage.
Courtesy of Oxfam Philippines

Muslim leaders in the southern Philippines on Friday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to repeal a recently signed law criminalizing child marriage, saying it was part of their culture.

The law, which became effective last month but was announced late Thursday, prohibits the marriage of anyone younger than 18.

The community in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao does not support the law, said Romeo Sema, the region’s labor and employment minister.

“We are asking the president to reconsider it and veto the law,” Sema said, as another Muslim leader noted the appeal has been sent to Duterte’s office.

“It’s a culture that is very hard to change,” he said.

Anwar Emblawa, a Muslim leader in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao province, said a girl was considered a woman once she reaches the age of puberty.

“In Islam there is no fixed age … to get married. As long as a girl reaches the age of puberty, they are allowed to get married.”

‘Structures that perpetuate discrimination’

While the legal age for marriage in the Philippines is 18, in some religions and cultures, child marriage is practiced and considered normal, especially in tribal communities where a girl is considered an adult once she reaches puberty.

Girls Not Brides, an international advocacy and research group, said the Philippines has the world’s 10th highest number of child brides, at 808,000 – India at 26.6 million is the highest. An estimated 15 percent of Philippine girls are married by the age of 18, compared to 3 percent of boys.

According to UNICEF, Niger has the highest overall prevalence of child marriage in the world, but Bangladesh has the highest rate of marriage involving girls younger than 15. A 2017 analysis by Pew Research Center said at least 117 nations, including the United States, allow children to marry.

As of December 2021, the Philippines is not on that list. As of last month, anyone who fixes, facilitates or arranges a child’s marriage faces a fine of at least 40,000 pesos (U.S. $780) and a jail term of up to 12 years.

Under the law signed by Duterte on Dec. 10, the state recognizes the “need to abolish all traditional and cultural practices and structures that perpetuate discrimination, abuse and exploitation of children such as the practice of child marriage.”

“The State recognizes the role of women in nation-building and shall therefore protect and promote their empowerment. This entails the abolition of the unequal structures and practices that perpetuate discrimination and inequality,” the law said.

Any child marriage is considered void from the start, without any need for annulment, it said. The Department of Social Welfare and Development has been enlisted to lead in implementing the measure.

‘A huge win’

Noraida Abo, executive director of UnYPhil-Women, an organization based in the southern Lanao del Sur province, urged the Bangsamoro leadership to support the law to protect Muslim girls from being forced into marriage.

“Ending child, early and forced marriage is a huge win for the future of our Bangsamoro children,” Abo told BenarNews. “We are one step closer to achieving our goal where we put an end to Bangsamoro children having children.”

Abo’s group is part of the “Girl Defenders” alliance that includes British non-government organization Oxfam along with local Philippine organizations.

The alliance has to battle resistance from the community and clerics.

In November 2015, a fatwa, or religious edict, signed by Abuhuraira Udasan, mufti of the Islamic advisory council Bangsamoro Darul-Ifta in Mindanao, endorsed early and forced marriage.

It urged Filipino Muslim youth to “get married when the necessary conditions are met,” as long as they have reached puberty.

The fatwa said “Islam does not precisely fix any marriageable age” and in instances where the bride is younger than 18, the couple can practice contraception to delay pregnancy.

On Friday, the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), a group advocating for the rights of women, said the law finally addresses the “legal gaps” that have allowed child marriages to thrive in the nation.

Lawyer Kristine Rosary Yuzon-Chaves, PCW’s executive director, praised the government for recognizing that child marriage is a crime.

“With this enactment, we can protect girls from being trapped in unwanted marriage, early pregnancy, violence and other violations to their human rights and dignity,” she told BenarNews.

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