UNICEF congratulates the Philippine Government for the legislative milestone which now increases the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from below 12 years to below 16 years.
The landmark law, Republic Act 11648 signed on March 4, 2022, fulfils children’s right to protection as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which the Philippines is a signatory.
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.
Sexual violence results in severe physical, psychological and social harm for children.
Victims experience an increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, pain, illness, unwanted pregnancy, social isolation and psychological trauma. Some victims may resort to risky behaviours like substance abuse to cope with trauma.
The United Nations has long voiced concerns about the alarmingly low age of sexual consent in the Philippines. The age of consent was the lowest in Asia and one of the lowest in the world, leaving children in the Philippines vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
The first National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children conducted in 2015, which was led by the Council for the Welfare of Children supported by UNICEF and the World Health Organization with the academe and civil society organizations, revealed that one in every five children in the Philippines (19.1%) aged 13-17 years old reported experiencing sexual violence, while one in 25 (4.8%) of all respondents experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.
The study also revealed that the perpetrators are often family members and that more boys (22.1%) than girls (15.9%) reported experiencing sexual violence.
UNICEF recognizes the leadership and commitment of both chambers of Congress in heeding the strong evidence and invaluable insights presented to them from extensive consultations with key stakeholders. The law now includes a more robust child protection legal framework as it now provides:
- Increasing the age to determine statutory rape from below 12 years to below 16 years.
- Equalizing the protection for victims of rape, regardless of gender.
- Adopting the “close in age exemption,” which serves to avoid criminalizing adolescents of similar ages for factually consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative sexual activity.
- For public and private institutions engaged in the education, training, and care of children to ensure that their curriculum for continuing staff development include plans and learning sessions on the scope of their duties and responsibilities in identifying, responding to and reporting rape and other sexual offenses. The Department of Education is also asked to include in the basic education curriculum the rights of children in relation to this Act. Such lessons are asked to be age-appropriate so this can be understood by all learners.
UNICEF remains committed to supporting the Government in creating a safe environment for children.
Together with our partners such as the Child Rights Network (CRN) Philippines and all other child rights organizations and advocates in the country, we at UNICEF will remain steadfast in supporting all efforts of the Philippine Government, especially the key actors in the implementation of this Act, to ensure the stringent enactment of this new law as we continue our work towards the complete eradication of all forms of violence against children in the Philippines.