It finally happened: The age of sexual consent has now been raised from 12 to 16 years old.
Republic Act No. 11648 was signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on March 4. Aside from “increasing the age determining statutory rape,” the act also provides stronger protection against rape and sexual exploitation and abuse and brings meaninful changes to the anti-rape law, the Revised Penal Code, and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act.
Under the new law, statutory rape now occurs when one party is under 16 years old. There is an exception if the age difference between both parties is only three years and the sexual act is “consensual, non-abusive, and non-exploitative.” However, that exception does not apply if the younger party is younger than 13.
Among other amendments, the new law has also changed the legal definition of rape, from an act committed between a man and a woman to an act commited by a person to another person. It’s an important change as it allows for more survivors to seek justice.
It also protects children from sex tourism, with the law reading, “Any person who shall keep or have in his company a minor 16 years of age or under or who is 10 years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach, and/or other tourist or similar places shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than P50,000.”
This is a huge win for women’s and child’s rights activists. There’s also a good synchronicity between this victory and the End Child Marriage Law signed into law last December. Both laws protect children from being coerced into threatening sexual sitations by adults.
In 2018, we wrote about our age of consent being 12—the lowest in Asia, and one of the lowest in the world. It being so low was especially dangerous in this country: in 2016, National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children reported that one in five children below 18 have experienced sexual violence.
Risa Hontiveros, one of the authors of the bill, celebrated the signing on Twitter. “Panalo tayo,” she wrote, adding, “It has been my greatest honor to be one of the authors of this law. To more laws to protect our children!”
PANALO TAYO! ✊🏼💜
Batas na ang Raising the Age of Sexual Consent Act!
The Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) executive director Jelen Paclarin emailed Preen their statement, reading, “Raising the age of statutory rape from 12 [to] 16 years old would help end the harrowing and daunting legal process for girl children victims of sexual violence. Findings from WLB’s consultation with civil society and government organizations since 2018 consistently showed high incidence of sexual violence among girls aged 13-17, with most victims at 15 or 16 years old. In WLB’s documentation of 47 Supreme Court decided cases of sexual violence involving girl children, 60 percent are between the ages of 15 and 17.”
Their research also shows that the criminal justice system’s insensitivity to survivors “continue to create and reproduce rape myths in the criminal justice system, and affects victims who tried to access justice. These kinds of practices perpetuate more harm to girl children who report the incident.” Among the harmful rape myths the WLB has found in Supreme Court cases is that rape happens to “young” or “desirable” women, when in fact, a number of victims tend to be children—and that incidents happen in their own homes with a person they know.
The WLB also noted that there’s still more work to do. “The fight is not yet over. We will continue to lobby to make consent as the central element to the crime of rape, and at the same time continue to push for the development of a specific law that will address the needs of incest rape survivors to support their distinct needs especially when the perpetrator lives with the victim.” In November 2020, the WLB proposed introducing “consent as a central element of rape.”
While it’s great that the new law has changed the legal definition of rape to be more gender neutral, it’s still missing a fundamental part of understanding what rape is—lack of sexual consent. That should be the primary focus, not on whether or not the survivor physically fought back.
With Slovenia passing their historic rape law amendment last June, we hope the Philippines follow suit.