The United Nations Children’s Fund defines the minimum age of sexual consent as the age from which someone is deemed capable of consenting to sexual activity. Its objective is to protect adolescents from sexual abuse and from the consequences of early sexual activity on their rights and development.
This is important because young adolescents are vulnerable to being lured into sexual activity by adults in exchange for goods or favors, making those in disadvantaged settings and poor background particularly at risk.
Until President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11648, the age of sexual consent in the Philippines was 12 years old, one of the lowest in the world. The new law, which amended Republic Act No. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act, increases the age for determining the commission of statutory rape in a bid to provide stronger protection for children against sexual abuse and exploitation.
Under the new law, any adult who has sexual relations with a minor aged 16 and below becomes guilty of rape.
The law exempts people who have sexual relations with minors under 16 years from criminal liability as long as their age difference is not more than three years. Additionally, sexual relations must be consensual, nonabusive and nonexploitatitive.
Civic groups advocating children’s rights said the law is a step forward in protecting children against all forms of harassment, especially now that more children are at risk from online sexual abuse and exploitation amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the Philippines, such cases have increased to 202,605 during the strict lockdown from March to May 2020, a massive difference from the 76,561 cases a year earlier, according to the Justice Department.
A UNICEF report also said one in five children in the Philippines aged 13 to 17 reported experiencing sexual violence, while one in 25 experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.
Raising the age of sexual consent to 16 is truly a significant step in protecting Filipino children. It shouldn’t have taken government until 2022 for this measure to have been passed but now that it has been signed into law, our society can hopefully breathe easier and young teenagers can grow up safer from all forms of harm and abuse.*