AN IRISH priest living in the Philippines has won a lengthy battle to stop men marrying girls as young as 12.
Dublin-born Fr Shay Cullen, who has been living and performing missionary work in the Philippines since 1969, has been campaigning and lobbying for years in light of reports that around 800,000 young girls get married off to local men every single year.
The 78-year-old, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in 2017, has convinced authorities to hand out prison sentences of up to 30 years to anyone who marries a child.
A recent UNICEF report claimed that around one in five teenaged girls in the country have been sexually abused in some way, and that around 1.2 million girls aged between 10-16 have given birth to at least one child in the last decade.
"It is a form of human trafficking by the parents or relatives, who for a payment or as a dowry - which can be money or animals or a piece of land - give their young daughter, as young as 12-years-old, to an older man as a live-in partner," Fr Cullen told the Irish Mirror.
He revealed that local governments have been accepting bribes to look the other way, but with the new laws, every single arrangement is now illegal.
"The only plausible explanation [for the delay in introducing the ban] is that politicians are corrupt," Fr Cullen added.
"Or they are subject to the influence of paedophile groups and have therefore allowed for 90 years of 12-year-old girls to be sexually abused by a. 20-50-year-old man without any legal consequences."
Because of his opposition to the practice, Fr Cullen has been threatened on numerous occasions during his 50-year+ stint in the country
His opponents even falsely accused of him child rape back in 1999, in an attempt to smear him, but his work and resilience seems to have finally payed off.