Published 4 November 2022, The Daily Tribune

One of the purposes of laws is to protect the disadvantaged. Children, due to their tender age and inexperience, are the usual victims of discrimination, abuse, and exploitation. For this purpose, several laws have been enacted to ensure the protection of children and the youth and, just recently, another law was passed for this purpose — Republic Act 11596 or An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties for Violations thereof.

RA 11596 defines a “child” as any human being under 18 years of age, or any person 18 years of age or over who is unable to fully take care and protect oneself from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation, or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability or condition.

Under the Family Code, if the marriage was contracted by persons below 18 years old, the marriage is considered void ab initio, even if the marriage was with the consent of the parents. However, despite such provision, child marriage is still somewhat prevalent in the country, to the prejudice of children who, more often than not, are merely forced into these marriages. This is attributed to the fact that the persons responsible for child marriage are not being penalized.

With the enactment of RA 11596, the State declared child marriage as a public crime that can be initiated by any concerned individual. “Child marriage” is defined as any marriage entered into where one or both parties are children, and solemnized in civil or church proceedings, or in any recognized traditional, cultural, or customary manner. Any person who causes, fixes, facilitates, or arranges a child marriage, including any person who performs or officiates a child marriage, shall be criminally liable under RA 11596 and can be penalized with imprisonment of eight to 12 years and a fine.

Prohibited child marriage includes an informal union or cohabitation outside of wedlock between an adult and a child, or between children. In the case of an adult partner who cohabits with a child outside wedlock, he/she shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of 10 to 12 years and a fine.

To reinforce the prohibition and criminalization of child marriage, the State tasked various governmental departments and agencies to ensure the full and prompt implementation of the law. In particular, to curb the child marriage practices which are traditionally and culturally acceptable in some areas of the Philippines, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and National Commission for Indigenous Peoples were tasked to include in its program of action awareness-raising campaigns within Muslim communities on the impacts and effects of child marriage in the overall health and development of children, monitor and report cases of child marriages in communities under its jurisdiction.

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