Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian reiterated the urgency of raising the age of sexual consent to counter the growing incidence of gender-based violence and human rights violations in the country.
Gatchalian, one of the senators who proposed to raise the age of sexual consent to 18, said amending the law on statutory rape would be helpful in combating sexual violence and abuse that result from child marriages.
“Ang mga kabataan ay dapat nag-aaral upang magkaroon sila ng mas magandang kinabukasan (Our youth should be studying so they can have a chance at a better future),” Gatchalian said.
“Hindi dapat napuputol ang kanilang mga pangarap dahil napipilitan silang magpakasal at magkaroon ng responsibilidad sa pamilya nang maaga (They must be able to pursue their dreams and not be forced to marry early and have serious burden on having their own family at such an early age),” the senator added.
The Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts, and Culture chief pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened to force millions of girls into child marriages.
In its 2020 global report released this month, Save the Children – an international charity organization – has said that up to 2.5 million girls worldwide are at risk of marriage in the next five years as they are forced to stay indoors due to school closures and economic uncertainty brought about by the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last April, the United Nations Population Fund warned that economic hardships and disruptions to programs on gender-based violence could result in up to 13 million more child marriages in the next 10 years.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has ranked the Philippines as the country with the 12th highest number of child brides in the world. The age of sexual consent in the Philippines is currently at 12, the lowest in Asia and the second lowest in the world.
The senator said it is important to ensure continued provision of child protection programs and reproductive health services to protect vulnerable girls from the effects of the pandemic.
The lawmaker also stressed it is important to conduct comprehensive sexuality education since early marriage and family matters are considered the top reason why girls, six to 24, prefer not to attend school as per a report by the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey 2017.
“Dahil mas maraming mga panganib ang kinakaharap ng ating mga kabataan sa gitna ng pandemya, lalo nating dapat paigtingin ang mga hakbang laban sa anumang uri ng karahasan at pang-aabuso (Since our young people today face more danger in the middle of the pandemic, we need to strengthen our policies to protect them from any form or violence and abuses),” he said.
The joint Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights and Women and Children have approved the committee report on the bill increasing the age of consent in the Philippines from the current 12 to 16.
Once enacted into law, a sexual intercourse between an adult and an individual below 16 would be considered statutory rape.