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Age of sexual consent now 16: Why this ‘hard-fought’ win is crucial in PH

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 10:33 AM March 11, 2022
Age of sexual consent now 16: Why this ‘hard-fought’ win is crucial in PH

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MANILA, Philippines––As the Philippine legal system set 12 as the age of sexual consent, child rights activists viewed Republic Act No. 116481 as a “glimpse of hope, especially for victims.”

READ: Bill increasing age for determining statutory rape signed into law

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While Salinlahi, a national alliance of child rights activists, stressed that there’s still a long way to go to completely eliminate all kinds of sexual violence and exploitation, the law will provide hope for victims of “obnoxious” crimes.

The law, which Gabriela said was a “hard-fought” win for women and child rights activists who tirelessly worked for its passage, will strengthen the fight against sexual violence and exploitation in the Philippines, especially against Filipino children.

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READ: House Approves bill raising age for statutory rape from 12 to below 16

On Dec. 1, 2020 the House of Representatives, with 207 votes, passed House Bill No. 7836 on final reading. The Senate, with 22 votes, passed its version—Senate Bill No. 2332—on final reading on Sept. 27, 2021.

READ: Senate OKs bill raising age for determining statutory rape from 12 to 16

Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray supported the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) call for Congress to act with urgency in passing the law, which raises the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

On Nov. 24, 2021, Congress convened a bicameral conference committee to reconcile the disagreeing provisions of the bills which seek to provide stronger protection against sexual violence.

RELATED STORY: Gordon: Raised statutory rape age further protects child rights

The report of the bicameral conference committee was ratified by the House of Representatives and the Senate on Dec. 14, 2021 and Dec. 15, 2021. Last March 4, it was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte and became law.

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READ: Bill raising statutory rape age awaits Duterte nod

‘Highly needed protection’

RA No. 116481 amended the provisions of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), the Anti-Rape law and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination law.

RA No. 8353, or the Anti-Rape Act, which was signed in 1997, set the age of sexual consent to 12––the lowest in Southeast Asia and even in the world.

The Unicef said raising the age of sexual consent protects the young from sexual abuse and from the consequences they may not be completely aware of when engaging in early sexual activity.

Now that the Philippines raised the age of sexual consent to 16, any person who will engage in sexual activity with a minor who is less than 16 will be committing a crime.

RELATED STORY: Raise the age of consent

For the group Save the Children Philippines, RA No. 116481 “recognizes children’s right to and need for protection from sexual violence and exploitation.”

The National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children in the Philippines revealed that one in five Filipino children who are 13 to 17 have experienced sexual violence.

The Unicef said that out of these, 4.2 percent were raped and that perpetrators are often relatives of the victims. One in 25 Filipino children likewise experienced forced consummated sex throughout childhood.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

Gabriela, which said that the law will help address the highly concerning violence against women and children, stressed that one child and one woman is sexually violated every 24 minutes and 34 minutes.

For Unicef, the law is an essential step toward carrying out children’s rights to protection from sexual violence and exploitation, regardless of their sex, orientation, gender identity and expression.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

It said that the National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children in the Philippines revealed that out of the 4,000 children who responded to a survey, 22.1 percent boys and 15.9 percent girls experienced sexual violence.

However, when rape is committed against boys, it is only considered by the Anti-Rape Act as “rape by sexual assault,” which has a lesser penalty of six to 12 years of imprisonment.

Dark crime

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the lawmakers who tirelessly worked for the law, said that as the Philippines signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it should protect children from any kind of sexual violence and exploitation.

“Our children would be made to testify in court, recall traumatic events, just to prove the crime of rape. The pain of remembering alone has scarred many Filipino kids,” she said.

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

As stressed by Unicef and the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation Inc. (PLCPDF), here’s the age of sexual consent in Southeast Asia:

• Brunei: 16 years old
• Malaysia: 16 years old
• Indonesia: 15 years old
• Singapore: 16 years old
• Cambodia: 15 years old
• Thailand: 15 years old
• Laos: 15 years old
• Myanmar: 14 years old
• Vietnam: 13 years old
• Philippines: 12 years old (now 16 years old)

Without RA No. 116481, Article 266-A of the RPC said that rape is committed even without the presence of elements of force, threat, intimidation, etc. as long as the victim is under the age of 12 or is demented.

This crime is known as “statutory rape,” wherein consent of the victim to engage in sex––even if present or was presumed given––cannot be used as a defense on account of the victim’s age.

“The lifelong psychological and emotional injury inflicted in them is a cruelty we should no longer allow,” Hontiveros said. For her, the law is a “historic legislation that we have long owed our children.”

The Unicef said victims of sexual violence experience an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, pain, illness, unwanted pregnancy, social isolation and psychological trauma.

It stressed that since sexual violence results in severe physical, psychological and social harm for children, “some victims may resort to risky behaviors like substance abuse to cope with trauma.”

From 2015 to 2017, the Unicef and the PLCPDF said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was able to assist in 1,608 child rape cases––639 in 2015, 508 in 2016 and 470 in 2017.

RELATED STORY: CHR to Congress: Pass bill raising age of sexual consent

The DSWD said there were 804 cases of child rape and 141 cases of child exploitation in 2018. There were likewise 1,326 incest cases from 2015 to 2017.

However, with the United Nations saying that all over the world, only one out of 10 cases of sexual violence is reported, the total cases of sexual violence could even be more overwhelming.

Intensified protection

RA No. 116481 provides “stronger protection against rape and sexual exploitation and abuse and increased the age for determining the commission of statutory rape.”

RELATED STORY: PNP pledges to support measures to increase age of sexual consent regarding statutory rape

GRAPHIC: Ed Lustan

It has these provisions to strengthen the commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women:

• ‘Seduction by person of authority’

The seduction of a minor, 16 and over but below 18, by any person in authority, priest, home-servant, guardian, teacher, or any person who, in any capacity, shall be entrusted with the education or custody of the minor “seduced” shall be penalized.

• ‘Seduction by deceit’

The seduction of a minor, 16 and over but below 18, committed through deceit shall likewise be penalized.

• Child prostitution and other sexual abuse

A child, male or female, who for money, profit, or any other consideration or because of the coercion or influence of any adult, syndicate or group, indulges in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, are considered to be children exploited in prostitution and other sexual abuse.

When the victim is below 16, the perpetrators shall be prosecuted through Article 335, paragraph 3, for rape, and Article 336 of the Revised Penal Code, for rape or lascivious conduct.

• Child trafficking

Any person who shall engage in trading and dealing with children, like the act of buying and selling of a child for money or for any consideration or barter, shall be penalized with reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua.

• Obscene publications and indecent shows

Any person who shall hire, employ, use, persuade, induce, or coerce a child to perform in obscene exhibitions and indecent shows, whether live or in video, or model in obscene publications or pornographic materials, or to sell or distribute the said materials shall be penalized.

• Acts of neglect, abuse, cruelty, or exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to the child’s development

Any person who shall keep or have in his company a minor who is not his or her child and is 16 or below or who is 10 or more his junior in any public or private place shall be penalized.

This provision, however, counts out any person who is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity or any bond recognized by law, local custom and tradition or acts in the performance of a social, moral or legal responsibility.

RELATED STORY: Zubiri hails bicam approval of bill raising statutory rape age

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TAGS: age of sexual consent, Gabriela, INQFocus, RA No. 116481, Risa Hontiveros, Salinlahi, statutory rape, United Nations Children’s Fund
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