MANILA – A proposal seeking to end child marriages in the country has hurdled second reading at the House of Representatives.

During Tuesday's plenary session, the chamber passed through voice voting House Bill 9943, which seeks to protect children by prohibiting and declaring child marriage as illegal and imposing penalties for violations.

Other unlawful acts would be the solemnization of child marriage and cohabitation of an adult with a child outside wedlock.

The proposed law would impose penalties against solemnizing officers, parents, guardians, or adults who fixed, facilitated, or arranged child marriage.

Under the bill, any person who performs or officiates a child marriage shall be meted a penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000.

Any person who caused, fixed, or facilitated, or arranged a child marriage will also suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period or a fine of not less than PHP40,000. However, if the perpetrators should 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.

Meanwhile, the adult partner who cohabits with a child outside wedlock would suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than PHP50,000.

Deputy Speaker Bernadette Herrera, one of the authors of the bill, said child marriage denies children of their childhood, disrupts their education, and limits their opportunities.

Herrera cited the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stating that in developing countries, nine out of 10 births to adolescent girls occur within a marriage or union and these girls are vulnerable to pregnancy-related complications, which are among the leading causes of mortality among adolescents around the world.

"Women and girls' development is hindered by CEFM (child and early forced marriages) as married girls most likely drop out of school and lose the chance to be educated and gain skills and knowledge which will help her gain a good job and earn for herself and her family," Herrera said.

She said the perpetration of violence and gender inequality is another negative impact of CEFM.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 20 percent of ever-married women aged 15-49 have experienced domestic and/or intimate partner violence since age 15.

Meanwhile, the National Baseline Survey on Violence against Children reported an 80 percent prevalence of all forms of violence against children. (PNA)