Philippines: Early and Arranged Marriages Put Muslim Women at Risk
Thursday, February 4, 2010 2:10 PM

1 February 2010


Early and arranged marriages remain common in the Philippines, predominately among the 5 percent of the Filipino population that is Muslim. Most of the Filipino Muslim population lives in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (“ARMM”).
Forced and early marriages are sanctioned by the Muslim Code, which sets the minimum age for marrying at 15, but allows girls who have attained puberty and are over the age of 12 to be married after a petition is filed by a male guardian. Yasmin Bursan-Lao, founder of Women for Justice in the Bangsamoro, explained that both cultural attitudes and the Muslim Code must be changed to halt the practice.
Local NGOs have struggled to identify the exact number of underage marriages in the country since most marriages are not registered.  Women for Justice in the Bangsamoro recently conducted a survey of women in the ARMM region who were married before reaching age 18. 83 percent of the 593 respondents stated they were between 15 and 17 years old at the time of marriage; 17 percent were between the ages of 9 and 14. The ages of respondents’ husbands ranged from 11 to 59 years old, with 57 percent between 17 and 21 years old at the time of marriage. (IRIN Asia).  Most of the women surveyed cited religious beliefs, cultural reasons, and economic factors as the primary reasons for entering into an arranged marriage. Some women indicated they married for political reasons.
A 2008 Health and Demographic Survey revealed that ARMM’s maternal mortality rate is double the national average. The region also has an exceptionally high rate of at-home births, which pose unique health risks to adolescent mothers. Additionally, more than 120,000 individuals in the ARMM are living in evacuation centers after an outbreak of violence caused by a Muslim separatist group. Marriages resulting from unplanned pregnancy are common in the evacuation center’s close quarters, and some families are marrying off their children to qualify for more food stamps under the center’s per-family food distribution system.
Compiled from: "Philippines: Early Marriage Puts Girls at Risk," IRIN Asia (26 January 2010).