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Duterte signs law banning child marriage

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Duterte signed Republic Act (R.A.) No. 11596, also known as An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties, on December 10, 2021, and a copy of the document was made available to reporters on Thursday.

Duterte recognizes the need to abolish all traditional and cultural practices and structures that perpetuate discrimination, abuse, and exploitation of children, such as child marriage, by signing the law.

“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 read.

Child marriage is defined as any marriage in which one or both parties are minors and is solemnized in civil or church proceedings, or in any recognized traditional, cultural, or customary manner. It shall include an unmarried union or cohabitation between an adult and a child, or between children.

The law declares “unlawful and prohibited acts” the facilitation and solemnization of child marriage and cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock.

“The foregoing unlawful and prohibited acts are deemed public crimes and can be initiated by any concerned individual,” Section 5 of RA 11596 read.

Anyone who causes, fixes, facilitates, or arranges a child marriage faces a medium-term prison sentence and a fine of not less than PHP40,000.

If the perpetrator is an ascendant, parent, adoptive parent, stepparent, or guardian of the child, the penalty is prision mayor for the maximum period, a fine of not less than PHP50,000, and permanent loss of parental authority.

Any person who performs or officiates a child marriage faces the maximum penalty of prision mayor and a fine of not less than PHP50,000, as well as perpetual disqualification from office if he or she is a public officer.

If an adult partner cohabits with a child out of wedlock, the penalty is prision mayor for the maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000, and the perpetrator may be permanently barred from holding office at the discretion of the courts if the perpetrator is a public officer.

In terms of incarceration, prision mayor is a “afflictive” type of penalty. It has a minimum period of six years and one day to eight years, a medium period of eight years and one day to ten years, and a maximum period of ten years.

RA 11596 directs the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to take the lead in implementing this Act and developing programs to address the prevalence of child marriage and provide appropriate services, including but not limited to legal services, health services, psychosocial services, counseling, educational, livelihood, and skills development, temporary shelter, and all other assistance necessary to protect victims of child marriage and their families. It will include public awareness campaigns about the negative consequences of child marriage.

The Department of Education is required by the new law to include culturally sensitive and age-appropriate modules, as well as discussions on the impacts and effects of child marriage, in its comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, on the other hand, shall launch a systematic information and prevention campaign against child marriage through barangay-level education programs and child-centered initiatives.

The legislation is a synthesis of Senate Bill No. 1373 and House Bill No. 9943, both of which were passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on September 27, 2021.

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