Philippine president signs law raising age for sexual consent to 16

Jeoffrey Maitem and Dennis Jay Santos
2022.03.07
Davao, Philippines
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Philippine president signs law raising age for sexual consent to 16 Filipino women and children participate in a dance exercise in suburban Manila to draw attention to sexual abuse of children, Feb. 6, 2016.
AFP

Child-rights advocates on Monday welcomed the Philippine president’s signing of a bill that raises the minimum age of sexual consent to 16 years old from 12, saying this would protect children from rape and other exploitation.

For nearly a century until President Rodrigo Duterte put his signature on the new law, the majority-Catholic nation had one of the world’s lowest ages for consent. The law increases to 16 the age for determining statutory rape in most cases. On Friday, the president signed Republic Act (RA) No. 116481, which will take effect once it is published in the government’s official gazette.

Rape is committed by a person “when the offended party is under 16 years of age or is demented,” read portions of the new law released by the presidential palace on Monday. 

The Philippines representative for UNICEF congratulated the government for the “legislative milestone,” noting that the law fulfills children’s right to protection as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Philippines is a signatory. 

“Sexual violence results in severe physical, psychological and social harm for children. Victims experience an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, pain, illness, unwanted pregnancy, social isolation and psychological trauma. Some victims may resort to risky behaviors like substance abuse to cope with trauma,” Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said in a statement on Monday. 

UNICEF plans to monitor “to ensure the stringent enactment of this new law as we continue our work toward the complete eradication of all forms of violence against children in the Philippines,” she said. 

‘A line that adults cannot cross’

Those convicted for lascivious conduct with a minor younger than 16 will face a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

In cases where there is no more than three years age difference involving a child younger than 16, there will be no criminal liability if the act is consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative. If the victim is 13 or younger, this provision would not apply.

Juan Miguel Zubiri, the Senate majority leader who wrote and co-sponsored the law, said it would protect children from malicious people taking advantage of them.  

“At 13 or 14, our kids cannot make informed decisions about sex yet, especially sex with adults. ... With this law, we will be definitively drawing a line that adults cannot cross. They cannot say a kid below 16 gave them consent. That is statutory rape, plain and simple,” he said in a statement. 

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate’s Justice and Human Rights Committee, called Duterte’s action a “big step in children’s rights.”

“We are thankful for the passage of this bill, which ends the stigma of the Philippines having the lowest age of sexual consent in Asia. It fortifies protection of children’s rights and criminalizes perverted minds,” he said.  

The Senate passed its version of the bill in September 2021, after the House took similar action in December 2020. The two sides had to reconcile differences in language before sending the bill for Duterte’s signature.

According to a 2015 study published by UNICEF, one in every five children in the Philippines between the ages of 13 and 17 reported experiencing sexual violence, while one in 25 experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.

Perpetrators often were family members and more boys than girls reported experiencing sexual violence, the study also found. 

90-year-old law

Human rights groups had argued for a change in the law because while statutory rape is a crime against children, it only covered children 12 and younger. The old law had been in effect in the predominantly Catholic Philippines for 90 years, according to Child Rights Network (CRN), a nationwide alliance of children’s rights groups.

This development now effectively means that an adult engaging in sexual activity with a minor younger than 16 – the new age of sexual consent – will automatically be guilty of rape, it said. 

“RA 116481 is the product of the genuine collaboration and unwavering efforts of legislators, policy makers, victim-survivors, young people, civil society advocates, child protection lawyers, social workers and other practitioners throughout the country,” CRN official Romeo Dongeto told BenarNews. 

“Despite everything that’s been transpiring in the past months, our legislators worked tirelessly and selflessly to ensure the safety and well-being of the Filipino children from sexual violence through this measure,” he said, referring to the current political season where many lawmakers are campaigning ahead of the May national and local elections. 

Dongeto said he believed the new law would encourage victims to come forward.  

“This is a victory for the Filipino children. The road to ending child rape begins today. Advocates will work alongside the government to ensure that they can maximize the protection that the new law brings, and the public needs to fully understand the content of the law,” Dongeto said. 

The main challenge is to ensure its full implementation, he said. 

“We encourage everyone to be vigilant and proactive in reporting cases to the proper authorities as long as confidentiality is strictly observed and consent from the victim is secured,” Dongeto said.

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