In anticipation of the opening of the third regular session of the 18th Congress next week, the United Nations and several of its representative agencies in the Philippines has called on both the House and the Senate 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 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,” said the UN is a statement released Wednesday.
Among those who led in the call were Gustavo Gonzalez, Resident Coordinator and Head of all UN agencies in the Philippines; Dr. Leila Sajii Joudane, Representative of UN Population Fund Philippines, the UN agency for reproductive health; Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, Representative of UNICEF Philippines, the UN agency for children, and Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, Representative of WHO Philippines, the UN agency for health.
In a 2015 report entitled National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children conducted by the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) it revealed that one in every five children in the Philippines (19.1 percent) aged 13-17 years old reported experiencing sexual violence, while one in 25 (4.8 percent) of all respondents experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.
It was also revealed in the study that the perpetrators are often family members and that more boys (22.1%) than girls (15.9%) reported experiencing sexual violence.
Prodded by the findings and extensive consultations with key stakeholders, the UN advocated for more holistic, non-discriminatory, protective, and responsive measures that have been incorporated in the separate versions in the House of Representatives and Senate, including the following:
The UN agencies noted that 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.
It added that some victims may even resort to risky behaviors like substance abuse in order to cope with trauma.
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.
The UN offices in the Philippines noted that 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 said.
The United Nations system likewise underscored the urgency of passing legislation currently being considered by Philippine 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.
The UN reaffirmed its commitment to support the government in creating a safe environment for children as it commends other ongoing legislative efforts that seek to protect children from other forms of violence such as online sexual abuse and exploitation.
In addition, the UN joined the call for the prioritization and adequate financing of programs that prevent teenage pregnancy.
In November last year, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill No. 7836, increasing the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from 12 to below 16.
With a majority of 207 affirmative votes, the bill aims to amend Republic Act No. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
The legislative measure states that statutory rape is committed when the victim is below 16 years old or if the victim is 16 years old or over but has a physical, mental, or psychological disability or condition.
Under existing Philippine laws, sexual intercourse with children below 12 years old is illegal and tantamount to rape.