Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a bill that raises the minimum age of sexual consent from 12 to 16, his office said on Monday, in a bid to protect minors from rape and sexual abuse.
Anyone who engages in sexual activities with children below the newly-prescribed age is liable to be charged with statutory rape.
Until now, the Philippines has had one of the world’s lowest minimum ages of sexual consent, behind Nigeria’s age of 11, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
A copy of the legislation, Republic Act (RA) 116481, was uploaded on the Official Gazette’s website today, although Duterte signed the law on March 4. The law amends several portions of the Revised Penal Code, the Anti-Rape Law and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
“We welcome this legal development and hope that it will help protect young girls from rape and sexual abuse,” said Josalee Deinla, spokesperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which provides legal help to poor and marginalised people in the Philippines.
Lawrence Fortun, one of the bill’s main sponsors, described it as “a major step forward.” He added, “I am elated that our collective efforts at pushing for stronger protection against rape and other forms of sexual abuse are advancing.”
Civic groups advocating children’s rights said the law is a step forward in protecting children against all forms of harassment. “It provides a glimpse of hope for children victims of horrendous and obnoxious crimes and a step forward in achieving gender equality,” Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary-general of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, said in a statement.
He said the government should “make the law work for children by focusing on its proper implementation as well as guaranteeing higher conviction rates.” He added that the criminal justice system should be more accessible to children, especially the poor.
“Both local and national governments should intensify their efforts to educate the public about the law as a way to effectively prevent the commission of child rape,” he said. “We must send a strong message that child rape is a heinous crime and that there is a law punishing it.”
Cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines increased to 202,605 under a strict lockdown from March to May 2020, from 76,561 cases a year earlier, according to the Justice department.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: NEW YORK POST