MANILA — The United Nations (UN) in the Philippines on Monday urged Congress to pass the bill amending the country’s rape law and raising the age of statutory rape to 16.
“As the opening of the third regular session of the 18th Congress draws near, the Head of the UN in the Philippines, along with the Representatives of the WHO, UNFPA, and UNICEF Philippines, call on both chambers of the Philippine Congress to prioritize the immediate passage of a law that increases the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from below 12 to below 16,” the UN said in a statement.
“The UN has long voiced concerns about the alarmingly low age of sexual consent in the Philippines. The age of consent is the lowest in Asia and one of the lowest in the world, leaving children in the Philippines vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” it added.
Based on the National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children study, 1 out of every 5 children aged 13-17 reported sexual violence “while one in 25 (4.8%) of all respondents experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.”
The study also showed that perpetrators are often members of the family and that more boys or 22.1 percent than girls or 15.9 percent reported experiencing sexual violence.
The UN said it has advocated for a “more holistic, non-discriminatory, protective, and responsive measures” in separate versions of the House of Representatives and Senate including:
- Increasing the age to determine statutory rape from below 12 to below 16
- Equalizing the protection for victims of rape, regardless of gender
- Adopting the “close in age exemption,” which serves to avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity.
- Removal of marriage as forgiveness exemption where the perpetrator is freed of legal responsibility if the perpetrator marries the victim.
“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,” the UN said.
“As child victims reach adulthood, sexual violence can reduce their ability to care for themselves and others. The harmful norms that perpetuate sexual violence take a heavy toll on families and communities too. Most children who face sexual abuse experience other kinds of violence. As abuse and exploitation become entrenched, progress towards development and peace can stall – with consequences for entire societies,” it added.
The organization noted that passing the bill is an essential step towards fulfilling children’s rights against any form of sexual abuse, violence, and exploitation.
“The United Nations system in the Philippines underscores the urgency of passing legislation currently being considered by both Houses of Congress as an essential step towards fulfilling children’s rights to protection from sexual violence, abuse and exploitation, regardless of their sex, orientation and gender identity and expression,” it said.
“The UN remains committed to supporting the Government in creating a safe environment for children. We commend other ongoing legislative efforts that seek to protect our children from other forms of violence such as online sexual abuse and exploitation. The UN is also one in calling for the prioritization and adequate financing of programs that prevent teenage pregnancy.”
Voting 207-3, the House of Representatives earlier approved on final reading House Bill 7836 which raises the age for determining statutory rape to 16 years old, strengthening laws against rape and sexual abuse.
The proposed law sets the age of sexual consent to 16, amending the 23-year-old Anti-Rape Law, as well as the Revised Penal Code.
For Gabriela Women's party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, the amendments highlight the essence of the crime of rape, which is lack of consent, by:
- broadening the definition of rape
- the enumeration of circumstances where there is a presumption of lack of consent
- the inclusion of cases where there are non-penile penetration
- repealing 266-C of Act No. 3815, or the forgiveness clause if the victim and perpetrator are married
- repealing 266-D of Act No. 3815, or the necessity of overt physical force and physical resistance to constitute as rape
- increasing the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16
- increasing the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from 12 to 16
Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, chairperson of the House Committee on Welfare of Children and one of the principal authors, has appealed to the Senate to pass the bill.
HB 7836 is a consolidation of 10 bills proposed by Brosas, Romualdez, and several other lawmakers.
A sociologist believes it is high time people stop behaviors that condone rape culture, and that the public must reinforce calls for a proper justice system.
The Commission on Human Rights said tolerance to micro-aggressions like rape jokes, victim-blaming, sexist attitudes and statements like “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” can support and excuse other acts like degradation, removal of autonomy, and violence.
“Violence against women (VAW), including rape, is deeply rooted in patriarchal beliefs and unequal treatment of women in our society. Aside from enduring the violent act, women are further subjected to victim-blaming, sexual objectification, and trivialization of the assault,” the CHR said.
“Denial of such crimes against women is the ultimate attack on women’s dignity. It clearly illustrates the widespread impunity on sexual violence and other forms of VAW,” it added.
—with reports from RG Cruz and Josiah Antonio, ABS-CBN News