The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has praised the Philippine government for raising the minimum age for sexual consent from 12 to 16 designed to safeguard underage children from rape and sexual assault.
Republic Act No. 11648, that President Rodrigo Duterte approved on March 4, "was an essential step toward fulfilling children's rights to protection from sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation, regardless of their sex, orientation, or gender identity and expression," said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, a representative of UNICEF Philippines, in a remark.
She stated that sexual abuse causes serious physical, psychological, and social risk to children, and that victims are more likely to contract HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Victims also experience anguish, ailments, unplanned pregnancy, social withdrawal, and psychological trauma, with many succumbing to unhealthy behaviors such as drug addiction to cope, according to Dendevnorov.
Before this, the country had the lowest minimum age of sexual consent in Asia and is one of the world's lowest, trailing only Nigeria's age of 11, "leaving children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation," she said.
According to a 2015 study conducted jointly by UNICEF and the Center for Women's Resources, a local non-governmental organization, seven out of every ten rape victims in the Philippines were children.
It also stated that one in every five, aged 13 to 17 years old had suffered sexual violence, and one in every 25 had been subjected to non-consensual sex as a child.
The new law, in particular, changed the wording of the rape provisions to make it gender-neutral. Rape was described as an act of someone who has carnal knowledge of another person, rather than an act perpetrated by a man who has carnal knowledge of a woman.
Children, regardless of whether male or female, are considered abused in sexual exploitation and other forms of sexual abuse if they engage in sexual intercourse or lascivious behavior for money, profit, or any other consideration, or because of coercion or the influence of any adult, syndicate, or group.
In the Revised Penal Code, the new law also increased the age of victims of qualified seduction, simple seduction, child prostitution, and child trafficking.
Simultaneously, it required institutions pertaining to child education and care to guarantee that their staff development curriculum included plans and learning sessions on the scope of their duties and responsibilities in identifying, responding to, and reporting rape and other sexual crimes.
This included Department of Education (DepEd), whom were asked to incorporate suitable subjects about children's protections and rights in the basic education curriculum in light of the new assessment.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the measure's principal author, applauded its approval into law, saying it demonstrated that the arms of government, regardless of political differences, could still work together to protect the welfare of the youth.
“As a mother, I am relieved that we have a government that is ready to listen and to defend our children,” she said.
She went on to say that she was saddened by advocates' stories about youths as young as 13 to 14 years old who were victims of rape but had to convince people that they did not consent to such an act.
“In other cases, they were even asked if they enjoyed it. This is a form of cruelty that has no place in our society,” Hontiveros said.
According to her, it took years and years for the nation to take steps on measures to change the age of sexual consent, leaving many Filipinos, mostly women, victims of violence.
“Together, we will keep working to attain a Philippines where every child lives happily, peacefully, and with dignity,” she added.
Rep. Lawrence Fortun of Agusan del Norte, one of the bill's main sponsors in the House, called it a significant step forward.
“I am elated that our collective efforts in pushing for stronger protection against rape and other forms of sexual abuse are advancing,” he said in a statement.
According to Josalee Deinla, a spokesperson for the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, the new law is a pleasant legal progression that will "help protect young girls from rape and sexual abuse."