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MANILA, Jan 7 (Mabuhay) — Child marriage is now a public crime under a new law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Republic Act (R.A.) No. 11596, also known as An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties, was signed by Duterte on Dec. 10, 2021 and a copy of the document was released to reporters on Thursday.

In signing the law, Duterte 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.

“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,” RA 11596 read.

Child marriage refers to 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. It shall include an informal union or cohabitation outside of wedlock between an adult and a child, or between children.

Under the law, the facilitation and solemnization of child marriage and cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock shall be declared “unlawful and prohibited acts.”

“The foregoing unlawful and prohibited acts are deemed public crimes and can be initiated by any concerned individual,” Section 5 of RA 11596 read.

Any person who causes, fixes, facilitates or arranges a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than PHP40,000.

However, should the perpetrator be an ascendant, parent, adoptive parent, step parent, or guardian of the child, the penalty shall be prision mayor in its maximum period, a fine of not less than PHP50,000, and perpetual loss of parental authority.

Any person who performs or officiates a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000 in addition to perpetual disqualification from office if he or she is a public officer.

An adult partner who cohabits with a child outside wedlock shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000, and may be perpetually disqualified from holding office at the discretion of the courts if the perpetrator is a public officer.

Prision mayor is an “afflictive” type of penalty in terms of incarceration. Its minimum period is six years and one day to eight years, while its medium period is eight years and one day to 10 years.

RA 11596 directs the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to take the lead in the implementation of this Act and create programs that will address the prevalence of child marriage and provide appropriate services, including but not limited to legal services, health services, psychosocial services, counseling, educational, livelihood and skills development, temporary shelter, and all other assistance necessary to protect victims of child marriage and their offspring. It shall include awareness campaigns on the negative effects of child marriage.

Under the new law, the Department of Education shall include culturally-sensitive and age-appropriate modules and discussions on the impacts and effects of the child marriage in its comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, on the other hand, shall institute a systematic information and prevention campaign against child marriage through barangay-level education programs and initiatives that are culturally-sensitive and child-centered.

The law is a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 1373 and House Bill No. 9943, passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on September 27, 2021. (MNS)

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