President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte signed a bill barring child marriage, which went into effect on Thursday, making child marriage illegal in the country.
The law declares that “the state… considers child marriage as a practice constituting child abuse because it debases, degrades, and demeans the essential worth and dignity of children.”
Marriage or cohabitation with anyone under the age of 18 is punishable by a 12-year prison sentence. Those who organize or solemnize underage unions face the same sentence.
In the Philippines, one out of every six girls marries before the age of 18. According to the rights organization Plan International in the United Kingdom, the Southeast Asian country has the world’s 12th highest percentage of child marriages, according to The Nation.
The law, according to the government, complies with international treaties on women’s and children’s rights.
Some provisions of the legislation, however, have been blocked for a year to provide for a transition time for Muslims and indigenous groups where child marriage is frequent.
According to a United Nations Youngsters’ Fund report published last year, more than half a billion girls and women worldwide were married as children, with Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia having the highest rates, according to The Nation.