Child marriage became illegal in the Philippines on Thursday as a law banning the practice took effect in a country where one in six girls enters wedlock before the age of 18.

The impoverished Southeast Asian country has the 12th-highest number
of child marriages in the world with long-held cultural practices and
gender inequality hindering change.

But a new law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte and released to the
public on Thursday, lays out prison terms of up to 12 years for marrying
or cohabiting with anyone under 18.

People arranging or solemnising underage unions also face the same

The government says the law is consistent with international
conventions on the rights of women and children.

However, some portions of the legislation have been suspended for one
year to allow for a transition period for Muslims and indigenous
communities in which child marriage is relatively common.

A report last year by the United Nations Children’s Fund said more than
half a billion girls and women worldwide were married in childhood,
with the highest rates found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

But recent data indicates the practice is generally in decline on average
across the globe.