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UN Philippines’ statement on increasing the age to determine statutory rape

Statement attributable to 

Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez, Resident Coordinator, Head of all UN agencies in the Philippines

Dr. Leila Sajii Joudane, Representative of UN Population Fund Philippines, the UN agency for reproductive health and rights

Ms. Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, Representative of UNICEF Philippines, the UN agency for children

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, Representative of WHO Philippines, the UN agency for health

 

As the opening of the third regular session of the 18th Congress draws near, the Head of the UN in the Philippines, along with the Representatives of the WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF Philippines, call on both chambers of the Philippine Congress to prioritize the immediate passage of a law that increases the age for determining the commission of statutory rape from below 12 to below 16. 

The UN has long voiced concerns about the alarmingly low age of sexual consent in the Philippines. The age of consent is 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 (CWC) 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. 

Prodded by the findings and extensive consultations with key stakeholders, the UN advocated for more holistic, non-discriminatory, protective, and responsive measures that have been incorporated in the separate versions in the House of Representatives and Senate, including:

  • Increasing the age to determine statutory rape from below 12 to below 16
  • 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 and non-exploitative sexual activity.
  • Removal of marriage as forgiveness exemption where the perpetrator is freed of legal responsibility if the perpetrator marries the victim.

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. 

As child victims reach adulthood, sexual violence can reduce their ability to care for themselves and others. The harmful norms that perpetuate sexual violence take a heavy toll on families and communities too. 

Most children who face sexual abuse experience other kinds of violence. As abuse and exploitation become entrenched, progress towards development and peace can stall – with consequences for entire societies.

The United Nations system in the Philippines underscores the urgency of passing legislation currently being considered by both Houses of Congress as 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. 

The UN remains committed to supporting the Government in creating a safe environment for children. We commend other ongoing legislative efforts that seek to protect our children from other forms of violence such as online sexual abuse and exploitation. The UN is also one in calling for the prioritization and adequate financing of programmes that prevent teenage pregnancy.

 

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For more information, contact:

Maria Teresa Debuque, National Information Officer, United Nations in the Philippines, debuque@un.org

Ann Regala, Communications and Media Analyst, UNFPA Philippines, regala@unfpa.org

Niko Wieland, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Philippines, nmwieland@unicef.org, +63 917 867 8366

Marge Francia, Communication Officer, UNICEF Philippines, mfrancia@unicef.org, +63 917 858 9447

Rocel Ann Junio, Communications Officer, WHO Philippines, junior@who.int, +63 2 8528 9060, +63 928 501 2064