After the signing of Republic Act No. 11596 which criminalizes child marriages, Senator Win Gatchalian said that increasing the statutory rape age will be a crucial next step in safeguarding Filipino children from violence and abuse.
Last year, both houses of Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report on increasing the statutory rape age from 12 to 16. For Gatchalian, one of the co-authors of the measure, the ban on child marriages and the higher statutory rape age should deter predators from committing what are considered gender-based violence and violation of human rights.
“Kung maisasabatas sa lalong madaling panahon ang pagtaas ng statutory rape age, mas mapapaigting natin ang mga hakbang upang tuluyang masugpo ang mga child marriages sa ating bansa. Ang mga kabataan ay dapat patuloy na nag-aaral at hindi nagpapakasal sa murang edad. Napapanahon nang masugpo natin ang ganitong uri ng pang-aabuso at karahasan,” said Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
A child marriage is a marriage in which one or both of the spouses are under 18 years old. Under the new law, unlawful acts include the facilitation and solemnization of a child marriage, as well as cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Philippines ranks 12th in the absolute number of child marriages globally.
Because of school closures, service disruptions, and economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF also warned that 10 million more child marriages may occur worldwide before the end of the decade.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), many adolescent brides are exposed to early and frequently repeated pregnancies and childbirths. The 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) also shows that 26.4% of married women aged 15-19 years old reported experiencing physical, sexual or emotional violence.
Based on the 2019 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), two out of three adolescents who got pregnant have partners who are older by 20 years, Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) Executive Director Juan Antonio Perez III said last year. The POPCOM chief added that this points to a degree of power play and seduction among girls aged 11 and 12.
POPCOM also reported that from 755 in 2000, 2,411 girls considered as very young adolescents aged 10 to 14 gave birth in 2019, an equivalent of seven every day.