“Never again will a child rape victim be denied justice.”
Unknown to many, the age of sexual consent in the Philippines is 12 years old. That is, according to the country’s Revised Penal Code.
That means, it is legally permissible for an elderly man to have sex with a prepubescent girl—and get away with it—by pleading the court that the child “gave consent.”
Imagine this: The current age of sexual consent is 12 years. So when a 14 year old girl is raped, all that the defendant needs to prove is that the sexual act was “consensual”. After the pain and trauma caused by forcible sexual act, the rape victim has to once more endure the shame and pressure of court examination, and to relive again and again the detestable crime that has happened to her.
In fact, the rape victim may even be forced to admit that she had a consensual relationship with the rapist, and as a result, leaving the judge with no other option but to dismiss the charge of rape, the girl apparently having given consent.
After all, proving consent seems to be the default in a defendant’s cross-examination playbook.
As a result, few cases are reported, fewer come to court. That is why even when child sexual abuse has almost become prevalent, many people, including the families of the victim themselves, have difficulty admitting that fact, much reporting the crime.
Sad to say, child rape is not uncommon in the Philippines. In fact, despite the passage of the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, rape remains the most frequent type of sexual abuse, followed by incest and fondling. More than 70 percent of sexually abused children are between 10 and 18 years old. Among those victims, 20 percent are under 6 years old.
Tingog Party-List Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez, also the chairperson of the House Committee of the Welfare of Children, was one of the strongest proponents of the legislative measure to finally increase the age of sexual consent. Not only was she the principal author of House Bill 7836, she also actively steered its passage in the House of Representatives, thanks to the support from like-minded colleagues including Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla and Rep. Lawrence Fortun.
At first the prospects of passing of the said bill was not very encouraging. Similar proposals have already been filed in the past, but they all ended up languishing in the legislative mill, not even going past committee approval. But determined as she was to ensure its passage, Rep. Romualdez worked hand-in-hand with child welfare advocates such as the Child Rights Network Philippines and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In a country where you have to be 17 years old to drive, 15 years to be legally employed and 18 years old to vote – our laws shamelessly presume that you can consent to a sexual act at the tender age of 12 years.
On December 1, 2020, the House of Representatives finally approved on third and final reading House Bill 7836 seeking to provide children with stronger protection against rape by raising the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16 years old.
But it would take another ten months before the Senate gives its nod to their counterpart measure. Last week, the Senate finally passed on third reading their counterpart version, Senate Bill 2332 paving for the eventual passage of the End Child Rape Bill.
The next legislative hurdle is the bicameral conference committee, where conflicting provisions between the House and Senate versions will be reconciled.
A cursory examination of both versions would show that the House version is more comprehensive in its breadth, and progressive in perspective—compared to the more conservative approach taken by the Senate. Hopefully, both houses would work to provide a compromise version that would secure the best interest of the Filipino child.
There are four non-negotiables that must find their way into the final version of the End Child Rape Bill. First, increasing the age of sexual consent to 16 years. Second, equally applying the crime of rape to both girls and boys. Third, including a “close-in-age” exemption of three years for adolescents in a consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative sexual relationship. Fourth, eliminating the “forgiveness by marriage” provision.
The passage of the End Child Rape Bill cements Tingog Party-List’s longstanding commitment to provide stronger protection to the most vulnerable sectors of our society and to ensure that no single Filipino child is left behind.
Never again will a child rape victim – whether a girl or a boy – suffer the indignity of what could be a traumatic court proceeding. With the age of sexual consent increased to 16 years, all that the court needs to prove is that the sexual act happened, and establish the age of the rape victim.
Never again will a child rape victim be denied justice, by being forced or intimidated, at times even by their own family, to admit that they gave consent to sexual abuse.
Increasing the age of sexual consent makes it now a criminal act of statutory rape to have sex with a 16-year-old child or younger. A convicted offender faces a possible sentence of life in prison on the credible testimony of the child victim. This law is a powerful deterrent and provides greater protection for vulnerable children.
Hopefully, the new law setting the age of sexual consent at 16 years will be signed into law without further delay. More than 90 years of impunity for child rapists has been long enough. It is high time we corrected this decades-old injustice that makes it legally permissible to sexually abuse a child. This will put an end to impunity of child rapists, strengthen the power of the State to prosecute them and guarantee the full protection of children.