Child marriage causes irreversible damage to children as it cheats them of their birthright to enjoy their childhood.
Children have the right to remain youngsters for as long as possible. Their right to quality education, to be healthy and safe from harm, and to be free from adult responsibilities carry as much weight as their inalienable right to run in the sunshine; climb trees; and laugh and play with friends.
The power of play cannot be overemphasized because play enlivens children’s imaginations, nurtures a sense of adventure, and helps them acquire life skills such as the importance of teamwork, sharing, and friendship.
As we have heard from our speakers, inordinately affected by the aberration of child marriage are girl brides who make up more than 80% of the victims of child unions. Considering that we are already in the 21st century, the staggering number of child marriages around the world is both alarming and damning. This statistic is a searing indictment, but let us make this a challenge to confront with confidence and conviction the global menace of child marriage.
This adverse, abhorrent, and antediluvian practice must be consigned to the past soonest and our forum today signifies our solidarity and commitment to finally end child marriage in our respective countries.
We can all learn from each other’s experiences in the initiation of genuine reforms to address traditional practices harmful to children, especially girls, like child marriage; and the implementation of innovative programs and relevant projects that will raise awareness on this gross violation of children’s human rights and drum up support for the swift passage of laws banning child marriage and prescribing penalties for this repugnant crime.
Moreover, I am certain that the best practices shared by our speakers today in the crafting of laws to truly stamp out child marriage into obsolescence will prove useful to advocates in other countries that are yet to enact laws outlawing and criminalizing child marriage, including the Philippines.
Our cause is buttressed by international human rights instruments and conventions foremost of which are the United Nations Convention on Consent to Marriage which provides that States Parties “shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage” and the Convention on the Rights of the Child/ which mandates the abolition of “traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children”.
Child marriage vitiates marital consent because either or both the bride and groom are underage to give valid consent. Moreover, it adversely affects the welfare and wellbeing of children, principally girls. Their development is seriously prejudiced as their education is abruptly cut short; their employment opportunities become limited; they become more vulnerable to inter-generational poverty; and their health is compromised by early childbearing and multiple pregnancies even as their babies are also more vulnerable to ill-health, developmental delays, and even early childhood mortality.
Archaic cultural and customary practices cannot sacrifice children to the disastrous consequences of child marriages which must be outlawed for general enforcement.
Likewise, the concept of “child marriage” must be revised to include cohabitations outside of wedlock between children, and between adult men and young girls. These live-in unions should be proscribed because they have the same adverse consequences of child marriages.
The passage of a law prohibiting child marriages and clandestine live-in unions involving children must be reinforced by the creation of a social environment where child marriage cannot breed. Government must implement the following policies: a) empowering girls with information, skills and support networks; b) enhancing girls’ access to and completion of quality education; c) providing economic support and incentives to girls and their families; and d) encouraging parents and community leaders to stamp out child marriages.
If we work together, I am confident that we can slay the monster that is child marriage which has preyed on our children for far too long, harmed their chances of reaching their full potential, damaged their health and development outcomes, and destroyed their futures.
This closing message does not close an enduring advocacy and campaign to end child marriage worldwide.
Ending child marriage now is not a slogan. It is a call to action to save our children and assure them a better future.