Congress has been urged to prioritize the passage of a law that would increase the age for statutory rape from the current below 12 to below 16.
The plea was aired by the head of the United Nations in the Philippines (UN-PH), together with the representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Philippines.
Published reports stated that the House of Representatives approved last Dec. 1, 2020 the End Child Rape Bill but at least five counterpart measures in the Senate are still pending at the Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Citing data from the first National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children conducted in 2015, the UN-PH said that one in every five children in the Philippines (19.1 percent) aged 13 to 17 years old reportedly experienced sexual violence, while one in 25 (4.8 percent) of all respondents experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.
It also said that the study pointed out that the most of the reported perpetrators of sexual violence were allegedly family members and that more boys (22.1 percent) than girls (15.9 percent) reported experiencing sexual violence.
Thus, UN-PH pushed for more holistic, non-discriminatory, protective, and responsive measures to be incorporated into law.
It said the measures should include, aside from increasing the age to determine statutory rape from below 12 to below 16, those that would equalize the protection for victims of rape, regardless of gender; and adoption of the “close in age exemption,” which serves to avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual and non-exploitative sexual activity.
It also pushed to remove the option of marriage as an exemption against perpetrators, since this would make the perpetrator free from legal liability.
Victims of sexual violence face intense physical, psychological, and social harm, it said, because they are placed at an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, pain, illness, unwanted pregnancy, social isolation, and psychological trauma. Some victims even resort to substance abuse in order to cope with the trauma they have experienced, it also said.
In underscoring the “urgency” of passing the legislation, UN-PH said the law once enacted would finally fulfill children’s rights to protection from sexual violence, abuse and exploitation, regardless of their sex, orientation and gender identity and expression.
“The UN remains committed to supporting the government in creating a safe environment for children,” it said.
“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,” it added.