Voting 21-0, the Senate unanimously approved on final reading a bill seeking to declare child marriage illegal in the Philippines.

Any marriage entered into—whether solemnized in civil or church proceedings, or any in recognized traditional, cultural, or customary manner—by one or two parties who are below 18 years old is considered a “child marriage” under Senate Bill No. 1373.

“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,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of the bill.

“Today we give our girls a chance to dream, a chance to define their future according to their own terms,” she added.

A penalty of prision mayor in the medium period and a fine of at least P40,000 shall be meted out against anyone who would arrange or facilitate child marriage in the country.

A higher penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of at least P50,000 shall be imposed if the perpetrator is an ascendant, stepparent, or guardian of the minor.

Those who officiate child marriages shall also be penalized with prision mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than P40,000.

“Child marriage is considered as void ab initio (from the beginning), hence, the action for annulment of child marriage does not prescribe,” the bill read.

Under the proposed law, the Department of Social Welfare and Development is mandated to formulate culturally-appropriate programs and services together with other concerned agencies, civil service organizations, and non-governmental organizations to prevent and eventually end the practice of child marriage in the country.

Three similar bills are pending at the committee level in the House of Representatives. — DVM, GMA News