PH raises age of sexual consent from 12 to 16

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 7) — President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law a bill raising the minimum age of sexual consent from 12 to 16 years old to protect children against abuse and sexual exploitation.

Republic Act No. 116481, which amends the Anti-Rape Act of 1997, states that it will be considered statutory rape if an adult has sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years old.

It also said there is no criminal liability even if the person is under 16, as long as their partner is not more than three years older and the sexual act is consensual and non-abusive. The exception does not apply if the victim is under 13 years old.

Duterte signed the consolidated versions of the Senate and House bills on March 4. A copy was released to the media on Monday.

Prior to the new law, the Philippines had the second lowest age for sexual consent worldwide, next to Nigeria's age of 11, according to Child Rights Network.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) celebrated the passage of the law that also equalized the protection for victims regardless of gender.

"The passage of this legislation is 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," it said in a statement. "Sexual violence results in severe physical, psychological and social harm for children."

UNICEF also recognized the leadership and commitment of Congress in working for the passage of the amendments.

Principal author Risa Hontiveros said the historic legislation has long been the kind of protection all Filipino children deserve.

"As principal author of the act, I am heartened that I have been given the opportunity to be part of this groundbreaking measure. Happy Women’s Month, indeed!" she said in a social media post.

Gabriela Party-list sees the historic signing as a big leap for boosting Filipino children's rights, putting an end to decades-old loophole in the previous law.

“Sa ilalim ng bagong batas, hindi na lang simpleng child abuse ang pwedeng ikaso sa mananamantala sa menor de edad na below 16 years old kundi statutory rape na, whether consensual o hindi ang sexual activity," Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement.

[Translation: Under the new law, those who will take advantage of minors under 16 years old can be charged with statutory rape regardless of consent, not just a simple case of child abuse.]

The lawmaker added they will refile other amendments to strengthen the anti-rape law, including the concept of consent, additional aggravating circumstances for rape, and penalties for grooming.

Child grooming refers to an adult's predatory behavior with the intent of engaging in sexual activity or relationship with a minor.