The Child Brides of Mindanao – Shirin Bhandari
Masiu, Lanao del Sur
Don’t cry,” Ashia says. The wooden floor creaks as she walks across the dilapidated room. The infant rests in a small hand-woven crib that is suspended in the air. The frayed strings are attached to a metal spring that leads up to their ceiling. Half of the roof is missing. The crude crib bobs up and down as the baby continues to cry. Hunger is a common feeling of discomfort experienced in the Bolanto household.
Ashia, 16, rearranges her beaded hijab before she reaches down to give her brother a bottle filled with powdered milk. The family is unable to afford the prescribed formula, and at times substitutes it with sugared water. To earn a living, Ashia’s father farms a small patch of land to grow corn which he sells to the neighboring town of Marawi. After the 2017 Battle of Marawi, the family has found it difficult to sell their harvest.
The Southern Island of Mindanao is primarily a Muslim region amid a predominately Catholic country. The five-month-long Marawi battle between the government and the Islamic State-linked Maute extremist group is one of the bloodiest in the Philippines since the Second World War. The siege displaced more than 400,000 people. The cost of basic commodities have inflated, crippling the economy and devasting the lives of families. People have lost their jobs and security. Two years on, people are slowly returning to their homes, but carry with them a sense of uncertainty.
As the Philippine government slowly undertakes the rehabilitation, human rights groups claim the process has been plagued with mismanagement and corruption. There has also been an increase in child marriages since the siege. Young girls the same age as Ashia are being married off by their families due to financial pressure. Parents give their daughters away to be wed because they can no longer take care of them.