Bill raising statutory rape age to 16, gender-neutral protection

On August 25, 2021, Senator Richard J. Gordon, Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, sponsored Senate Bill No. 2332 or the bill defining the crime of statutory rape and other acts of sexual abuse from 12 to 16 years of age.

"We advocate to increase the age of sexual consent, through multisectoral partnerships with the judiciary, social welfare, education and health sectors as thousands of children are robbed of their youth — the physical and emotional effect creates lasting emotional and psychological scars, that the damage can last for a lifetime," Gordon said in his speech.

Gordon pointed out that the Philippines has the lowest age of sexual consent in Asia and one of the lowest in the world.

The child sexual abuse, he said, can affect the victim's psychological and physical well-being, family and intimate relationships, faith, and education and career.

"It is for these reasons that Congress has a role in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse in the country. We must uphold the right of the child to freedom from sexual abuse," Gordon stressed.

The close-in-age exemption or the "sweetheart clause" is included in SBN 2332, which is the exemption of consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative sexual activity between partners whose difference of age is four years from being considered as statutory rape.

"This seeks to balance the best interests of the child considering their evolving capacities, physical and mental maturity, vis-a-vis their protection against rape, sexual abuse and exploitation," Gordon said.

Another significant provision of SBN 2332 is that men and women may be charged with statutory rape. The proposed law, as Gordon explained, will address this issue by giving equal protection to boys.

"The sexual orientation of the offender is of no importance as we find that perpetrators of sexual abuse against boys are given much lesser sentences than those found guilty of raping girls. The proposed law will address this issue by giving a gender-neutral protection to children," said Gordon.

The National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children (NBS-VAC), a 2015 study by the government supported by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Philippines of 3,866 children and young people (13 to 24 years old), revealed that one-in-four children (24.9%) reportedly suffered from any form of sexual violence in any setting.

According to the data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), from 2015 to 2017, most of the victims of rape and child incest were between the ages of 14 to below 18, way above the minimum age set by RA 8353 (The Anti-Rape Law of 1997) of under 12 years old.

The National Bureau of Investigation also revealed in a report in 2020 that about 17.1% of children aged 13-18 years experienced any form of sexual violence while growing up. A prevalence of 1.6 percent was noted in the past 12 months.

"It is the policy of the State to value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights. It is likewise the policy of the state to recognize the vital role of the youth in nation-building and shall promote and protect their physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being," said Gordon.