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Women’s Refugee Commission releases new study on child marriage in BARMM region of the Philippines

New York, NY – Plan International and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), in partnership with Transforming Fragilities, launched a girl-centered, community-based study entitled Our Voices, Our Future

The study – conducted between 2020 and 2021 – collected information and stories on the lived experiences of 2,203 adolescents, adults, community members, local government unit (LGU) representatives, NGO workers, civil society organizations, and other key stakeholders to understand the drivers of child marriage among displaced and conflict-affected communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the Philippines. It also documented the priority needs of adolescent girls and systems of support required to prevent and mitigate the risks of child marriage.

This study is part of Plan International and WRC’s multi-country Child Marriage in Humanitarian Settings Initiative. The initiative is an effort to investigate the needs and priorities of adolescents in diverse humanitarian settings to inform evidence-based and practice-informed programming to prevent and respond to girls at risk of child marriage, and meet the needs of girls who are already married.

“This study sheds light on the alarming realities of adolescent girls living in conflict and crisis-affected communities in BARMM, including human rights violations such as child marriage,” said Katherine Gambir, a senior research advisor at WRC. “Findings affirm that the root cause of child marriage is gender and socio-economic inequality. However, adolescents are also initiating their own marriages in the context of extreme poverty and patriarchal systems that perpetuate limited opportunities for girls and women to pursue quality education and onward employment.”

The study also found that displaced girls from the conflict-affected areas of BARMM are more vulnerable to child marriage, which can severely affect their physical, mental, and psychosocial health, as well as make them prone to stigma, isolation, school dropouts, and extreme poverty.

According to the study, displacement and its accompanying insecurity make child marriage more likely by interrupting education, limiting livelihood opportunities, and dismantling protective community and social structures. In BARMM, displacement further increased girls’ risk of child marriage as the climate of increasing insecurity pushed parents to marrying their daughters to either protect family honor from the potential shame of sexual violence; to consolidate political power and resources; to receive additional humanitarian assistance; or in gratitude for receiving shelter.

“Despite these adversities, adolescent girls remain resilient and have the potential to be harbingers of social change in their communities with support from feminist organizations, the BARRM government, and existing community support structures,” said Gambir. “The urgent and coordinated action of feminist organizations and humanitarian, development, and national actors is needed to provide the financial and human resources to support adolescents and communities to unlock adolescent girls’ potential to live a life free of violence.”

The study recommends an urgent, coordinated, and multi-stakeholder community-led approach to addressing the drivers and factors that promote child marriage. It also presents program and policy recommendations for the national government, regional BARMM authorities, and LGUs to strengthen the existing government systems and structures that promote gender and socio-economic equity to mitigate the drivers and impacts of child marriage.

Read the full report.