Greetings to everyone.
When a young girl becomes a bride, its consequences will traverse her entire lifetime and its deleterious effects including poverty, lack of educational and employment opportunities, and ill-health, will be passed on to her children and even to her grandchildren.
But ultimately, the heartbreaking phenomenon of girls becoming brides is a tragedy that burdens an entire nation. Child marriage is clearly an element of intergenerational poverty and adversely affects national productivity.
I know that we all agree that the pristine innocence and enviable happiness of children must not be marred and cut short by early child marriage.
Both Chambers of the Congress are committed to the protection of girls and the promotion and fulfillment of their human rights and civil liberties. The House of Representatives and the Senate have heeded the call to prohibit and impose strict penalties on child marriage with the ratification of the bicameral conference committee report on House Bill 9943 and Senate Bill 1373.
In fact, the Congress went a step further by expanding the concept of child marriage to include cohabitations outside of wedlock between children, and between adult men and young girls. These live-in unions are proscribed because they have the same adverse consequences of child marriages.
Now all that is needed is for the enrolled bill to be transmitted to Malacañang for the President’s imprimatur.
But our role and responsibilities as legislators do not end with the signing into law of the anti-child marriage bill. As lawmakers, Members of Parliament play a key role in ending child marriage and we have accomplished the first step which is to criminalize and punish this abhorrent act.
In addition to this, we must also take the lead in the passage of relevant gender responsive legislation and appropriate national policies that will eliminate the very root causes of child marriage – poverty disproportionately affecting women and girls; long-standing gender inequalities and inequities; discrimination and the low status of girls; traditional customs harmful to girls; unfair employment practices and unequal pay for the same kind of work and fewer chances of promotion for women in the workplace, among other drivers.
We should be at the forefront of efforts to enact laws that will put girls first – like laws providing economic incentives particularly to girls and their families, enhancing girls’ access to higher education, ensuring adolescent reproductive health, and giving additional protection for girls against violence and assault.
Moreover, since the Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, has the power of the purse or the authority over the nation’s checkbook, legislators must be able to ensure that our national budget reflects our commitment to the welfare of women and girls.
Finally, Congress’ oversight functions also obligate us to oversee that the laws we pass are fully and faithfully implemented and ensure rigorous accountability.
Child marriage is an insidious and especially dangerous human rights violation affecting girls’ rights to education, health, a safe environment, reproductive self-determination, and to live their lives free from exploitation.
I am proud to have been part of the determined effort to finally stamp out this pernicious practice even as I am honored to be part of the #GirlDefenders alliance and I am looking forward to working with all of you in future collaborative efforts to promote, protect, and fulfill the rights of women and girls.