UN experts worry rise of early marriage among girls due to pandemic
MANILA, Philippines — A group of experts from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned local authorities that the number of girls being wed before even reaching 18 years old would increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
UNFPA’s representative to the Philippines Iori Kato said that the current figures — one in six girls entering marriage before the legal age — may see a spike because government efforts were interrupted by the health crisis.
“In the Philippines, even before the outbreak of COVID-19, 1 out of 6 Filipino girls married before 18,” Kato said in an online conference in commemoration of the World Population Day on Friday.
“And because the effects of this pandemic and quarantine measures are disrupting those efforts to end child marriage, we may actually see even a further increase in child marriage,” he added.
Kato was one of the speakers in the virtual meeting which featured gender-related policymakers, observers, and watchdogs in the country. Discussions revolved around safeguarding the health and rights of women and girls — believed to be much more vulnerable to domestic abuses due to stay at home policies.
But aside from the early marriage issue, Kato also warned about possible hindrances to reduction of maternal deaths and unintended pregnancies while the health sector maintains its attention on the health crisis.
Last May 28, on the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, the Commission on Human Rights and other groups called on the government to also focus on women’s health, especially after an expectant mother died last April after choosing to give birth at their house instead of going to a hospital, to avoid contracting COVID-19.
But after her baby was born, the midwife told her relatives to bring her to a hospital because she was bleeding. However, small hospitals urged her to be transferred to a larger hospital.
Recently, the Commission on Population and Development (PopCom) cited a joint study from UNFPA and University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) which showed that 214,000 out of two million births in 2020 would be unplanned — largely due to prolonged time of couples inside houses.
Back in March, the government placed Luzon and other parts of the country under an enhanced community quarantine, suspending work and classes to require people to stay at home to avoid possible coronavirus transmissions.
PopCom chief and Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III assured the UNFPA and other stakeholders that there are measures in place to ensure that women’s health are being monitored and taken care of.
“Despite the challenges, there are policies, measures, laws and numerous other efforts in place adherent to the Philippines’ commitments made in the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development, or ICPD, where our country was a staunch supporter as a signatory 25 years ago,” Perez said.
“While there are observable great strides in our population and development goals, more needs to be done, especially at this time when COVID-19 can derail the work we have strived so hard to accomplish,” he added. With reports from Jim Mendoza, trainee
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