"‘Our indignation must translate into action.’"
It is a story that is often told in hushed voices. A 13-year-old girl is raped, at times repeatedly by an adult who is known to her and her family. Trauma impedes her from telling anyone, and fear for her family’s safety keeps her from reporting it to them. But the pain and the distress build up to a point that it would be too much for a child to bear. So one day, she decides to tell her mother the truth.
The mother reports the crime to the police. The offender gets jailed, but due process, as it is every person’s right, would have to take its course.
From the investigators to the prosecutors, from the police station to the courthouse, the poor girl would be asked to testify and narrate the facts of the incident, painfully forcing her to relive every minute of that traumatic moment.
Then the child breaks down and refuses to continue on with the legal process, providing the offender the opportunity to take advantage and propose and compromise with the family.
Worried about their child, not to mention the hassles and costs of a lengthy court litigation, the family concedes.
Then freed from any criminal liability, the rapist goes on to molest another child.
This vicious cycle of child rape is what House Bill 7836 intends to end. By amending the current rape law and increasing the age of sexual consent to determine statutory rape.
Unknown to many, the current law assigns the age of sexual consent at 12 years. Thus those who are above 12 years are considered old enough to rationally decide to agree to sexual activity. In fact, sexual relations with those aged 12 to 18 years are only penalized if they were done with force, threat, or intimidation.
The age of consent in Philippines is the lowest in Southeast Asia. It is also one of the second lowest in the world following Nigeria—where the age of consent is 11 years old.
In fact it is a shocking fact for many to know, in a country, where you have to be at least 15 years old to be legally employed or 16 years old to apply for a driver’s license. The law requires that you must be 18 years old to exercise the right to vote, and 21 to marry without your parental consent. In fact, a 12-year-old child would not even be allowed in a cinema to watch a movie with nudity and predominantly sexual themes.
But our laws presume that a 12-year-old child is mature enough to legally consent to sex. This is the absurdity that the bill aims to correct. Once House Bill 7836 will be passed into law, the age of sexual consent will be increased to 16 years.
This means any sexual activity with a child 16 years and below will be automatically considered as rape, regardless of whether the child may have said or appeared to do it voluntarily.
The child only needs to prove two things —her or his age, and that the sexual act happened. Even when consent is allegedly present or was presumed given, it cannot be used in defense of the offender.
It took more than twelve years for the House of Representatives to pass this bill —not until Tingog Party-List Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez vigorously pursued its passage with the support of several other lawmakers, among them, Rep. Lawrence Fortun and Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla.
Its Senate version is awaiting plenary approval. Child welfare stakeholders are hoping it will be approved before Congress suspends its sessions for the Christmas break.
Child rape can result in a serious psychological trauma, that leaves them emotionally scarred for life, or cause them chronic post-traumatic stress or self-esteem issues, even leading to instances of suicide attempts. Over the long term, the sexual abuse of children has damaged the ability of persons to establish trust and intimacy even years thereafter.
UNICEF has expressed strong support for the measure, stating that “the objective of the minimum age of sexual consent is to protect adolescents from sexual abuse and from the consequences of early sexual activity on their rights and development.”
Leaving the age of sexual consent at 12 years makes it possible for sexual offenders to commit rape to leverage on legal technicalities, allowing them not to be not prosecuted under the rape law but are instead imposed lesser penalties. This leaves children vulnerable to sexual predators especially those who are significantly older than them and who may take advantage of their immaturity and manipulability.
House Bill 7836 also seeks to rectify another wrong—imposing the crime of rape , regardless of the sexual orientation of the offenders or the victims – providing equal protection for both boys and girls.
While the amendments to the Revise Penal Code introduced in 1997 recognized the rape of males, rape against males are only considered by law as rape by sexual assault, which carries a lesser penalty of six to twelve years as opposed to the same act against females which is penalized by life imprisonment.
The proposed measure hopes to remove this disproportionality, ensuring that boys are protected from sexual exploitation in equal measure to girls.
The bill’s principal author, Rep. Romualdez, rightly puts it, “Child rape is an ugly and painful reality that we must collectively confront and address immediately and decisively. But it is not enough that we are indignant. Our indignation must translate into action, and concrete measures to stop it.”