Rosemarie and Danchelle, two of our young adult benificiaries from Elizabeth Home, pursued their advocacy activities in the frame of the “Creating Spaces” campaign, aiming at ending child early and forced marriages in the Philippines. They represented the National Capital Region (NCR), along with fellow youth leaders, during a leadership camp for youth advocates organized by the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) and partner organizations last November 19 to 23, 2018, at the Dahilayan Forest Park in Bukidnon, Mindanao.
This youth camp was the third PLCPD-led advocacy event for youth that our girls took part in this year. Previously, they attended an advocacy workshop and held a press conference where they presented a proposed bill to be pushed to the Senate:
Child marriage in the Philippines
One pressing form of violence against women and girls but is rarely talked about in the Philippines is child early and forced marriage (CEFM). CEFM is an institutional violence against women and girls’ human rights. CEFM also endangers the safety and security of women and girls, disrupts their opportunities for self-fulfillment and development, and exposes them to risks of domestic violence.
Unfortunately, institutions in society plus social norms, accepted cultural and traditional practices, and even written and customary laws contribute to the prevalence of CEFM and violence against women and girls in the context of CEFM.
According to Jessica Lagadac, Virlanie’s Independent Living Program Coordinator, be it in religious communities or not, one of the main reasons why women and girls are forced to be married at an early age is poverty: “CEFM happens mostly in poor communities, when a family is too poor, the children are forced to be married without a choice. Our youth can relate to these topics: poverty and absence of choice.”
According to the Philippines Statistic Authority, marriages involving teenage brides 15 to 19 years old accounted for 12.2% of all registered marriages in the Philippines in 2013. This is four times higher than those involving teenage boys.
Two different laws govern the contract of marriage in the Philippines: Executive Order 209 or the Family Code and Presidential Decree 1083 or the Code of Muslim Personal Laws (CMPL). The Family Code states that both parties should be at least 18 years old at the time of marriage, and marriages in which any party is below 18 years is void from the beginning, even if parents or guardians of the contracting parties give their consent. Meanwhile, the CMPL declares that Muslim parties can marry before the age of 18: the Muslim male must be at least 15 years of age and the Muslim female must be of the age of puberty or above (12 to 15 years old).
Though not found in written laws, the practice of child marriage has also been observed in indigenous cultural communities in the Philippines. Among the Philippine population who are non-Muslim and non-indigenous, the practice of co-habitation between couples below the marrying age of 18 has also been observed, mainly as a result of early pregnancy and child birth.
“Creating Spaces to Take Action on Violence against Women and Girls”: Involving Philippine youth advocates
In this context, PLCPD, along with Oxfam, Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation, Philippine Business for Social Progress, and United Youth of the Philippines-Women, have entered into a partnership under the “Creating Spaces to Take Action on Violence against Women and Girls” project.
On a legal perspective, they pushed for the filing of the proposed bill prohibiting child marriage in the House of Representatives and Senate last 17th Congress.
“Our proposed law has been signed already by one of the representatives, Honorable Bernadette, and she is going to pass it at the Senate. We already had a press conference where we talked to legislators”, said Rosemarie.
Other strategies in reducing child marriages and preventing violence against women and girls include capacitating and empowering communities especially women and girls and strengthening institutions to respond to the needs of those who have experienced violence.
Following these previous advocacy events, PLCPD and its partners organized a leadership camp for youth advocates from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao regions on addressing child marriage.
This five-day youth camp was held in Dahilayan Forest Park, Bukidnon and aimed at providing creative space for 40 youth advocates to express their role in the said advocacy and to share their advocacy plans.
All week long, they took part in various artistic workshops aiming at expressing the topic of violence against girls and women through drama, dramatized poetry, body movement and choreography, theater improvisation games, video-making, songs, and dances. All activities were followed by talks and sharing sessions so that the youth can express themselves, give their testimonies, and share experiences while exercising their leadership and teamwork skills.
The output of this youth-camp was for the young representatives to set-up strategies of advocacy and awareness for their specific regions:
“They grouped us by region. In NCR, we are already planning to conduct trainings and symposium for the communities so they can be aware – we will do to them what they (PLCDP) did to us. So we can educate them, give them knowledge about our advocacy. Because here in the communities, especially in NCR, this issue is not talked about. They don’t know anything about it. Some people think it’s only in story books. Even me, before, I thought arranging marriage was just for rich people”, said Rosemarie.
Rosemarie: One of the most active youth leaders in the event
Jessica was impressed by the outstanding involvement of Rosemarie into this advocacy: “Rosemarie was very active, she became the leader of her group she got a lot of awards – she is so gifted as a leader, she is leading and consulting her group at the same time. She is also very spontaneous, adaptable and resourceful. As soon as we got back in Manila, she went to me asking me to involve the organization and to coordinate with other NCR youths. We will actually plan for that.”
Rosemarie, on the other hand, shared that she plans to implement an advocacy plan to the Rising Youth, Virlanie’s young adult organization: “We’re planning to pursue the advocacy with the Rising Youth. We just need to conceptualize and organize ourselves. It is not easy because the topic is so heavy. But I believe I can encourage them because even me at first I thought: “What am I doing here? I don’t even know that, I don’t know these rights and bills” but then there was a testimony and I was so inspired by this woman who shared her story, I wish that there will be no more victims of early marriage.”
From the Rising Youth to Virlanie staff and beneficiaries, to the poorest communities of the NCR region, and to the Senate, these passionate youth leaders will surely make their voices heard.