Troubling trend in marriage data

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FILIPINOS are known to celebrate many milestones in life, most especially marriages. But the passage of the law prohibiting the practice of child marriage last year apparently was no longer able to prevent the marriage—legally dubious—of 51 girls and boys under 15 years old who tied the knot in 2020, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Moreover, it seems a combination of factors is also working against marriage in a country that remains the most predominantly Catholic in the Far East. Data show the marriages contracted in 2020, the first pandemic year, were down to the same level of 50 years ago.

The latest PSA marriage statistics showed that the number of registered marriages in 2020 only reached 240,775, a decline of 44.3 percent from the total registered marriages of 431,972 in 2019.

“This was also the lowest number of marriages since 1970,” PSA noted in a statement.

The child marriages, meanwhile, pose another concern. Based on the marriage statistics of PSA, a total of 49 girls and two boys under the age of 15 got married to partners older than them in 2020.

Two of these under-15 year olds were married to men twice their age, with partners aged 30 to 34 and 35 to 39 years old. The two under-15 boys were married to women aged 15 to 19 years old and 20 to 24 years old.

“Those marriages should not have been allowed from the beginning, but civil registrars have been turning a blind eye because there was no punishment,” Undersecretary for Population and Development Juan A. Perez III told the BusinessMirror. “With the law, those are now illegal acts. Child marriages covered by the law cover both male and female children.”

The data also showed nine girls aged 15 to 19 years old were married to men 60 years old and over. Of the 3,217 marriages among men aged 60 and over, 2,248 of these were to women below 60 years old.

Some 2,524 boys aged 15 to 19 years old got married in 2020. These included 18 who married under-15 girls; 1,486 in their same age group; 905 to women who were 20 to 24 years old; 86 to women 25 to 29 years old; 20 to women 30 to 34 years old; six, to women 35 to 39 years old; and two, to women 40 to 44 years old.

Based on the data for 2020, the median age of marriage, or the age at which half of the population were younger/older upon marriage, was 27 years old for women and 29 years old for men. The median ages were the same as in the previous year.

“Marriages involving adolescent girls were four times than that of adolescent boys,” the PSA said.

In 2020, some 4.4 percent of females or 10,485 in their teenage years were married, a decrease of 56.2 percent from 2019 when 23,928 of females or 5.5 percent got married. This was about the same decrease also observed in marriages involving teenage males in the past year.

A total of 2,526 or 1 percent were married in 2020, a contraction of 53.9 percent from 2019, reaching 5,479 or 1.3 percent of the total. More than half or 5,746 representing 54.8 percent of teenage females married men in ages 20-24, and two out of 10 or 2,387 or 22.8 percent married men aged 25-29 years.

The data also showed that registered marriages between teenage men and women account for 0.6 percent or 1,505 of the total marriages in the country.

The Commission on Population (Popcom) recently welcomed the passage into law of Republic Act 11596, otherwise known as “An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage,” which criminalizes the union of an adult with a minor.

Rise of ‘live-in’

However, Perez cautioned that one of the dangers of making child marriage illegal is a further rise in “live-in” arrangements. He said “live-in” arrangements have been increasing over the past 20 years.

“People will just live in and avoid marriage, even with this law. Which is why the proposal to increase age of consent to 16 would be a greater deterrent,” Perez said.

Last year, the bicameral conference committee report approved a measure that increases the statutory rape age to 16 from 12, which is considered the lowest in Asia and one of the lowest in the world.

The bicameral conference committee report resolved differences between House Bill 7836 and Senate Bill 2332. However, the bill has yet to be signed into law as of press time.

Popcom has long advocated for the strong protection of Filipino children, being one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society.

In 2021, during a meeting on the State of the World Population, the commission acknowledged that Filipino girls in particular are currently subjected to another kind of “pandemic.”

This other pandemic is the unplanned and unintended pregnancies due to abuse, early marriage and cohabitation of adult males, all of which may be deterred by the new law.

Perez believes that marriages involving minors will also expose them to further unintended pregnancies, lead them to produce families and unions that are ill-prepared to face the challenges of rearing children, and lock them into the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“We have likewise noted that marriages and unions involving minor children diminish the bodily autonomy of girls, and are incompatible with basic human rights as enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Philippines signed in 1948,” Perez said in a statement.

“With the enactment of RA 11596, Popcom is confident our Filipino children are better protected from abuse and exploitation, hence, enabling them to achieve their aspirations and potentials as the future leaders of our nation, and where hopes of our country’s brighter tomorrow rests upon,” he added.

He stated further that RA 11596 is a strategic policy measure supportive of the Social Protection Program for Adolescent Mothers and their Children (SPPAMC), which Popcom and the Department of Social Welfare and Development are mandated to develop and implement under the 2021 and 2022 General Appropriations Act.

The SPPAMC is now being implemented on a pilot basis to protect adolescent mothers from the risks and vulnerabilities of early pregnancies.

Getting hitched

The latest PSA marriage statistics also showed that the number of registered marriages in 2020 only reached 240,775; it declined 44.3 percent compared with the total registered marriages of 431,972 in 2019.

“This was also the lowest number of marriages since 1970,” PSA said in a statement.

In 2020, Calabarzon recorded the highest number of registered marriages, which accounted for 32,822 or 13.6 percent of the total. It was followed by the National Capital Region (NCR) with 32,689 or 13.6 percent, and Central Luzon with 28,183 or 11.7 percent.

These regions comprised nearly 40 percent or 38.9 percent of the total registered marriages in the country. The same regions also registered the highest number of marriages and maintained their respective ranks in 2019.

Most of the marriages in 2020 occurred in February at 44,349 or 18.4 percent of the total daily average of 1,529 marriages per day. This was followed by the months of December which accounted for 16.3 percent and January at 15.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the pandemic cast a dark cloud over marriages in April and May in 2020 as the government imposed its strict lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Based on the data, April recorded the least number of marriages at only 866 or only 0.4 percent of the average of 29 marriages per day, while the month of May accounted for the second least number of registered marriages with 4,135 at 1.7 percent.

“The low number of marriages in these two months were due to the quarantine measures implemented throughout the country,” PSA said.

In terms of nationality, there were 235,785 marriages or 97.9 percent of unions were between Filipino men and women, while 4,837 marriages or 2 percent were between Filipinos and foreign nationals.

Among intermarriages with foreign nationals, a total of 4,500 Filipino women or 93 percent married non-Filipino men, while 337 or 7 percent of Filipino men married women of foreign nationals.

Intermarriages between Filipinos and American nationals registered the highest number with 1,193 or 24.7 percent of the total. This was followed by marriages involving Filipinos and Japanese nationals with 353 or 7.3 percent share of the total.

Other nationalities of men and women who were married to Filipinos were Canadian at 336 or 6.9 of the total; Chinese, 317 or 6.6 percent; and Indian, 267 or 5.5 percent.

Most Filipino females in intermarriages were married to American nationals at 25 percent. This was followed by Japanese at 6.8 percent, as well as Canadian and Chinese nationals posting 6.5 percent each.

Meanwhile, one in five Filipino males married Americans, representing 20.2 percent of the total, while 14.2 percent and 13.4 percent married Japanese and Canadian nationals, respectively.

Half of rites civil

In terms of the ceremony, PSA data showed that about half or 49.8 percent of the total registered marriages in 2020 were contracted through civil ceremony, an 11.2- percentage point increase from 2019 or 38.6 percent.

Despite being predominantly Catholic, only one in four marriages was officiated in the Roman Catholic Church at 67,233 marriages or 27.9 percent of the total.

Meanwhile, marriages solemnized in Muslim tradition comprised 1.3 percent of the total. Moreover, 0.9 percent were performed in tribal ceremonies while the remaining one in five marriages was performed in other religious rites accounting for 48,155 or 20 percent of the total.

Amid the pandemic, the age of Filipinos when they get hitched, and the many ceremonies that are now available, Filipinos continue to say “I do” and celebrate weddings as a major milestone in life.

Image credits: Mariia Polushina | Dreamstime.com