Zonta Club of Cebu II commits to ending child marriages among Filipina girls

The Zonta Club of Cebu II, Philippines, embarked on the challenge to end child marriages among Filipina girls.

Maria Aurora Quilala, Advocacy and Partnership Manager of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD), said the adverse effects of child marriages and unions among girls cover her physical, mental and emotional health and economic well-being. Quilala made the statement in her keynote speech in the “Girls Not Brides” webinar hosted by Zontians on Saturday, 9 January, 2021. 

The webinar was attended by members of Zonta Z-Club of Childlink High School and Golden Z-Club of the University of Southern Philippines. Others present included lawyer-members of the Integrated Bar of the of the Philippines, women’s desk officers from the different city units in Cebu, as well as guidance counselors from different schools and universities. 

Although the Family Code of the Philippines requires that parties in a marriage should be at least 18 years old, this does not stop common law unions and even marriages of young girls that are sanctioned by exemptions under other laws, such as the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines. This code allows the marriage of girls who reach the age of puberty. 

According to Quilala, the initiative and call for legislation to end child marriages in the Philippines dates back 10 years ago. However, a proposed bill for the purpose only materialized in 2019. Before the end of 2020, a consolidated bill to end child marriages, which makes marrying children a public crime, has been passed in third reading in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, however, three proposed bills for the same purpose remain pending and unprioritized at the committee level.

The road to end child marriages has been rough, with several obstacles such as poverty, lack of education and religious and cultural factors. The Zontians are committed to participate actively in advocating for these pending pieces of legislation to be passed so that more Filipino girls are given the chance to manage their choices for a better future. This can be empowered through education and a capability to be employed. Quilala said Zontians and other women can join the cause of ending child marriages by being part of the Girls Defender Alliance and taking part in the dialogues to lobby with lawmakers for the passage of the legislation on ending child marriages in the country.