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Muslim leaders ask Duterte to defer law criminalizing child marriage

/ 04:35 AM January 10, 2022

DAVAO CITY, Davao del Sur, Philippines — Muslim leaders in Mindanao appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to defer the recently signed law criminalizing child marriage across the country as the practice is an integral part of their culture.

A day after a copy of Republic Act No. 11596, also known as An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties, was released on Thursday, a resolution was passed by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), the interim governing body of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), appealing to the President to stop the implementation of the law.

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“We are asking the President to reconsider it and veto the law,” BARMM Labor and Employment Minister Romeo Sema told the Inquirer by phone on Sunday.

The new law signed by the President on Dec. 10 recognizes the need to abolish all traditional and cultural practices and structures that perpetuate discrimination, abuse, and exploitation of children, such as the practice of child marriage. Violators, including those who fixed, facilitated, or arranged child marriage, will be faced with a fine of at least P40,000 and a jail term of up to 12 years.

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“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.

Age of puberty

But Sema said the BTA believed otherwise.

“It’s culture. It is very hard to change,” he said, referring to Muslim men and women getting married at an early age.

Anwar Emblawa, a Muslim leader in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao, also said that in Islam, women were allowed to get married after they reached the stage of puberty.

“In Islam, there is no fixed age [for girls] to get married. As long as a girl reaches the age of puberty, [she and her husband] are allowed to get married,” he said.

In November 2015, as the then-proposed law was being deliberated, a fatwa, or formal legal opinion, signed by Abuhuraira Udasan, mufti of the Dar-al-ifta Bangsamoro, was endorsed clarifying the issues of early and forced marriage in the context of Islam, urging Filipino Muslim youth to “get married when the necessary conditions are met.”

The fatwa also clarified that the urgency was not applicable to the prepuberty or childhood stage, stressing that “Islam does not precisely fix any marriageable age” and in instances where the bride is under 18 years old, the couple can practice contraception to delay pregnancy.

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Huge win

Globally, the Philippines ranks 12th in terms of the absolute number of child marriages and unions, with one in every six girls getting married before reaching their 18th year, according to the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), a group advocating for the rights of women that welcomed the new measure.

“The law finally recognizes child marriage as a crime across the Philippines. It addresses legal gaps that allow this practice that threatens the health, well-being and development of children. With this enactment, we can protect girls from being trapped in an unwanted marriage, early pregnancy, violence, and other violations to their human rights and dignity,” said lawyer Kristine Rosary Yuzon-Chaves, PCW executive director.

Noraida Abo, the executive director of UnYPhil-Women, an organization based in Lanao del Sur province, instead urged the Bangsamoro leadership to support the law to protect Muslim girls from being forced into marriage.

“Ending child, early, and forced marriages is a huge win for the future of our Bangsamoro children,” Abo said. “We are one step closer to achieving our goal where we put an end to Bangsamoro children having children.”

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