Philippine Senate Approves Bill Raising Age for Sexual Consent to 16

Marielle Lucenio and Jojo Riñoza
Manila
2021-09-27
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Philippine Senate Approves Bill Raising Age for Sexual Consent to 16 Filipino children and adults participate in a dance exercise in suburban Manila to draw attention to sexual abuse of women and children, Feb. 6, 2016.
AFP

The Philippine Senate passed a bill Monday to protect children from statutory rape, raising the minimum age of sexual consent from 12 to 16 years old.

The bill is similar to one passed in the House in December 2020, and both chambers must reconcile the differences in their legislation before sending it to President Rodrigo Duterte for his signature. The bills seek to revise a law on statutory rape that has been in force in the Philippines for almost a century.

“Rape is a very violent crime, especially when performed against a minor. It is important that we amend the old law,” said Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the senate committee on justice and human rights.

“That’s why we’re having a legislative reform on rape, especially for the protection of our girls and boys,” he said in a statement. “Congress must uphold the right of every child to freedom from sexual exploitation.”

Gordon, the sponsor of the proposed legislation, and 21 other senators voted for Senate Bill 2332 (An Act Increasing the Age for Determining Statutory Rape and other Acts of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation to Protect Children) on its third and final reading. One senator abstained.

Rights groups have argued for a change in the law because while statutory rape is a crime against children, it only covers children under the age of 12.

The old law has been in effect for more than 90 years, according to the Child Rights Network, a nationwide alliance of children’s rights groups.

“Child rights advocates all over the Philippines are beyond elated with this development,” CRN official Romeo Dongeto told BenarNews. “This is a historical moment that we will fondly look back on for decades to come.

 “It took years for advocates to push for the bill in the legislative mill successfully. It took herculean efforts of campaigning for groups and experts to push Congress to prioritize ending child rape, an issue that for decades was generally overlooked or was even ignored at some point,” Dongeto said. 

Under the Senate bill, both men and women could be charged with statutory rape. 

Gordon said the new bill was needed because the Philippines has the lowest age of sexual consent in Asia and one of the lowest in the world.

He cited a National Baseline Study on Violence against Children in 2015. One in every five children in the Philippines in the age group of 13 to 17 said he or she had experienced sexual violence, according to the study. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the principal authors of the bill, described it as “historic legislation.”

She noted that under current law children as young as 12 can be forced to testify in court. 

“The pain of remembering alone has scarred many Filipino kids. The lifelong psychological and emotional injury inflicted upon them is a cruelty we should no longer allow,” she said in a statement.

“This is as much a victory for our children as it is a victory for all advocates, civil society organizations, women’s rights groups, and concerned parents and individuals who are committed to protect and defend every Filipino child,” she said.

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