The Senate Committees on Justice and Human Rights, and Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality have approved the proposals to increase to 16 years old the age for determining statutory rape.

senate 2 1024x576 - Senate Committee approves proposal to raise statutory rape age to 16
(Senate of the Philippines / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The committees, chaired by Senator Richard Gordon and Sen. Risa Hontiveros, respectively, discussed on Thursday eight bills seeking to raise the age of consent and the liability of statutory rape in the country.

At present, the age of sexual consent under existing laws is 12. The Philippines had the second lowest age of sexual consent worlwide, along with Angola. Nigeria was lowest at age 11.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, one of the proponents of raising the age for determining statutory rape, thanked the Senate panels for prioritizing the measure which he said was “very timely” amid the “alarming” incidence of child abuse and teenage pregnancy in recent years.

He cited the 2015 National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children which revealed that one in every five children (17.1 percent) aged 13-17 years old experienced sexual violence, while one in 25 (or 3.2 percent) of all respondents experienced forced sex during childhood.

He said the country also has one of the highest adolescent birth rates among the ASEAN member states, citing a World Bank study that there are 47 births in the Philippines yearly per 1,000 women aged 15-19. The average adolescent birth rates was 44 globally and 33.5 in the ASEAN region.

“I believe that the amendment to the Revised Penal Code is long overdue considering that the RPC is 89 years old and should be put at par with the expanding measures to protect children, our most vulnerable, and also our most valuable human resources,” Zubiri said.

“We have to do that now, to allow our children to really live their lives to the fullest, and not lose their innocence at such a young age. It’s such a barbaric act that should be condemned and penalized to the utmost extent,” he added.

During the hearing, Department of Justice and child rights groups’ have expressed support for the measure.

Judge Felix Reyes, who spoke for Regional Trial Court judges who have jurisdiction over rape cases, said the increase of age for determining statutory rape would also make “easier” their ruling on such cases since this would bolster the argument that minors are not mature enough to discern or consent on sexual acts.

One of the groups also noted the “inconsistent” definition of children under existing laws and asked that this be addressed.

The lawmakers also agreed to include a “Romeo and Juliet” provision which recognizes consensual relationships between teenagers. Zubiri said the bill, anyway, targets adults “who prey on” minors.

Gordon also pushed for penalties for parents and guardians who force and exploit minors into engaging in sexual relationships with adults.

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