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Perspectives and realities of child marriage

While many support the passage of the anti-child marriage law or Republic Act No. 11596 that protects children, others push for an exemption, citing inconsistencies with the Muslim code of personal laws and cultural norms, customs, and traditions.

In the Islamic perspective, the age of discernment is the onset of puberty. It can be as early as nine years old for girls and around 15 or 16 for boys. They can get married by these ages to prevent zina or illicit sexual relations. However, we cannot be blind to other societal illnesses, like pedophilia and gender-based violence. Surely, the protection of the vulnerable is weightier than the few who wish to marry early and are psychologically, physically, and financially capable?

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To those seeking reconsideration of this law, try to imagine your nine-year-old daughter telling you she is in love with a boy in school and wants to get married. Try to imagine that a man five times her age who is eligible under our personal laws and customs wants to marry her. Try to imagine her with a child of her own. If you had a choice, would you consent to marry off your daughter, who is still in elementary? Is marriage at this point the best protection for her, more than education, parental guidance, or spiritual maturity?

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FEATURED STORIES

I am a young woman who got married at 26 years old. Others consider this the right age, but I still had to forego career and education opportunities even with my privileged position. Caring for the family became my priority. I am thankful for empowering experiences in my youth: I finished graduate school, did well in my professional career, and had the opportunity to travel the world. I am secure knowing I have skills and capacities in case of abandonment, divorce, or getting widowed. I wish the same for my daughter. To make the most of her potential before marriage when life becomes different.

I am still learning my rights as a wife within the rules of Islam. I cannot help then but think of women and children who are unaware of theirs, especially girls most vulnerable to gender-based violence in early marriages.

Meanwhile, I am a young male teacher, and I have seen firsthand how early marriages affect girls more than boys. I have 11- to 14-year-old students who are already married. The females had to stop school to care for their children while married young boys could continue and enjoy the support of their families. Unfortunately, too, we hear many stories of forced child marriages that consider girls as properties without agency.

Islam emphasizes the protection of women—it is imposed on men to lower their gaze when women are around, education is obligatory for both sexes, and women have the right to keep their inheritance and assets even after marriage. However, I recognize that women’s lived realities are starkly different from the ideal.

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RA 11596 seeks to protect children who cannot speak for themselves. While there is wisdom in allowing marriages to curb premarital sex, child marriage is not an isolated case that exempts specific cultures and identities because it affects education, health, poverty, and vulnerability to violence.

In a 2013 young adult fertility survey, 60 percent said early marriage or early pregnancy affected their ability to finish school, which has inter-generational effects. A person who graduated high school has four times more capability to increase their income than those who finish only elementary. Likewise, the capability to earn more increases sixfold for those who finish college than those who do not.

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Both of us are not Islamic scholars, but we know enough to say that not all Shariah laws are immutable. While our faith, values, and objectives as Muslims are universal and transcend time, laws allow flexibility to adapt to current contexts and necessities. Jurists can amend laws to ensure the welfare of our women. In Saudi Arabia, marriages below the age of 18 are already prohibited. If our collective goal as Muslims is to protect women and children, is it not time to consider the anti-child marriage law?

We reflected on this matter as both a woman and a man, bringing our perspectives as wife, mother, daughter, and brother and son. The debate will certainly continue, as it should. What is crucial now is that legislators and implementers protect spaces for dialogue that allow those directly affected to participate, raise issues, present solutions, and work with others to implement measures responsive to their everyday realities, especially for young women and girls.

Allahu’alam. Allah knows best.

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Nina Bahjin-Imlan is a wife, mother, and advocate for peace and women’s empowerment. Rod Matucan is a community youth leader and teacher in the Bangsamoro.

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TAGS: child marriages, Commentary, Nina Bahjin-Imlan
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