Bill raising age of sexual consent to 16 gains Senate nod

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 27) – The Senate approved on final reading on Monday a bill protecting children from statutory rape and other forms of sexual abuse by raising the minimum age of sexual consent from 12 to 16 years old.

Twenty-two senators voted for the passage of Senate Bill No. 2332, while one abstained.

The bill amended Republic Act 8353 or the Anti-Rape Act of 1997, which previously considered as statutory rape sexual intercourse with a victim under 12 years old.

The measure also changed the definition of rape to highlight that all persons, regardless of gender, can commit such a criminal act. It amended the language of the law that said rape is between a man and a woman only.

Senator Koko Pimentel, the only lawmaker who abstained, clarified that he agrees with the main purpose of the bill but emphasized it needs to be refined in certain aspects.

Pimentel particularly questioned the “sweetheart defense” provision, which exempts statutory rape if the offended party is aged 14 to 16. The provision also provides statutory rape exemption if the difference of age between the offended party and the offender is not more than three years, and if their act is consensual.

"The danger is, if one of the parties acts on this impression, that it is alright to have sex under those circumstances, and then later on one of them changes his/her mind and denies that the act was or the acts were consensual, then we will see a deluge of cases for statutory rape filed in our courts," said Pimentel.

Pimentel hopes the provision on age difference among involved parties in the statutory rape exemption can be revisited during the bill's bicameral conference committee hearings.

Last December, the House of Representatives passed its own version of the bill.

House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women's Party lauded the Senate approval of the bill.

"For nine decades, sexual contact with Filipino children as young as 12 is not considered statutory rape. This is about to change, as the #EndChildRape bill hurdles both chambers of Congress," Brosas said.

Brosas, who co-authored the House version of the bill, hopes the bicameral conference committee will arrive at a more expansive version.