According to a report issued last year by the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than half a billion girls and women across the globe were married as children, meaning under the age of majority (18). The areas with the highest rates of child marriage are found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
In the Philippines, for instance, one in six girls get married before the age of 18. According to the British rights group Plan International, the country has the 12th highest number of child marriages worldwide. Though recent data shows the practice seems to be declining, the long-held cultural practices and issues of gender inequality in the Philippines are hindering change.
However, earlier this month, the president of the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, signed a new law that makes child marriage illegal. Under this law, culpable parties can face prison terms of up to 12 years for marrying or cohabiting with anyone under the age of 18. Individuals who help arrange the marriage or solemnize underage unions also face the same penalty.
“The state… views child marriage as a practice constituting child abuse because it debases, degrades, and demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of children,” the law reads.
The law was immediately put into effect, except for some parts of the legislation that have been suspended for one year to accommodate a transition period for Muslims and indigenous communities in which child marriage is still relatively common.