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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Tradition vs girls’ human rights (3)

/ 04:04 AM January 31, 2022

The Save the Children (STC) study I described previously in this column came up with several insights based on the prevalence of early marriage among both the T’boli of South Cotabato and the Blaan of Sarangani province. Some of the traditional leaders we interviewed in that study stressed that it is hard to beat “tradition,” yet they also realized that many in their respective communities became out of school youth after they got married. One of our research team’s recommendations was for STC to conduct a series of consultations among the IP communities within their area of work, in both South Cotabato and Sarangani, to convince the traditional leaderships among the T’boli and Blaan to consider regulating the practice of early marriage in their communities. This was carried out, and toward the end of the series of consultations, traditional leaders themselves agreed on a covenant to ensure that young people, especially girls, will not be pushed to marry early just to keep tradition.

In Marawi City, after the five-month siege in 2017, a substantial number of child and forced marriages among girls was reported in evacuation sites. Thirty-one percent of the people in these sites responded to a survey conducted by Plan International that child and forced marriage, especially among young girls, is considered the most common form of sexual violence. While early or child marriage is “acceptable” among Meranaws as it is part of their “tradition,” there is also a growing number of women among them who are advocating the end of this practice. The survey also revealed that child marriage has become a coping mechanism for many families in the temporary or transitory shelter areas due to “economic instability, fear of violence, and a felt need to maintain ‘family honor.’” The latter is the consequence of the shame brought about by an act of sexual violence against young girls in the evacuation sites. It is always the violated girls who bear the brunt of being shamed and pilloried by society. When she gets pregnant, she will be forced to marry the older person who sexually abused her to “preserve family honor.”

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The Panginam (hope) project in Molundo, a town situated 20 kilometers south of Marawi City, is strongly pushing that girls and boys are given opportunities to study and to enjoy their childhood. In 2019, the United Nations Population Fund, together with the United Nations Development Programme and the International Labour Organization provided both material and capacity-building support to a group of young women who want to see the practice of child and forced marriage eliminated in their communities. Sam Guro, a youth development officer in Molundo, initiated this program, together with three friends. Sam herself revealed that her parents were married when they were children, but are now realizing that education can be a weapon to fight against poverty, and both young women and men should be given adequate opportunities to get quality education, learn skills for livelihood, instead of stopping school just because they are already married in order to work to support their families. Children need to enjoy being children, being able to play and engage in rough and tumble kinds of games while in their elementary and high school studies. Sam is proud that she and her friends are giving young girls and boys hope for the future, one that is no longer practicing child marriage.

Like all other aspects of culture, tradition is learned; therefore, it can also be unlearned. Moreover, several traditions among Magindanawn have already been decreed by Muslim Councils of Elders as “un-Islamic”—for example, the belief in fortune-telling, sorcery, traditional forms of healing invoking spirits like the pag ipat, celebrating birthdays, among others. These are strongly discouraged among Muslims. But practicing these cultural traditions does not infringe on anybody’s human rights, unlike the practice of child marriage.

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It is time to buck the tradition of forcing children to marry older men. Instead of continuing with this unjust tradition, how about ensuring the stringent implementation of the anti-child marriage law? How about penalizing Muslims and other leaders who oppose this law?

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TAGS: child marriages, girls' human rights, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, Tradition
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