Bill raising the age of consent must be passed soon

by Fr. Shay Cullen

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” | Photo by katerha via Flickr/Creative Commons

A few weeks ago, Annalisa (not her real name), 14 years, was rescued by the social workers and police and brought to the Preda home for abused children. We learned that Annalisa was from a broken home and only met her biological father when she was 12 and then only once. She has low education, and she was easily seduced into entering a sexual relationship with a 27-year-old man. She had been persuaded with gifts and promises of love by this older man, and her mother agreed. But the relationship did not work out.

Then in what appears to be a human trafficking crime, the mother gave Annalisa out again to another man, 26 years old, who became her live-in partner. Annalisa became dependent on him. After some time, her mother wanted to get her daughter back again since the man likely did not continue paying her. When he refused, the mother went to the police.

Under the present law, where the age of consent is shockingly low at 12, these men cannot be charged with child sexual abuse or rape even though Annalisa is only 14 and was 13 when it started. This is the lowest in all Asia, if not the world.

It is a disgrace on the Philippines that prides itself on being a modern, civilized, child-friendly society with 32 laws protecting children, and yet the age of consent has never changed.

This serious low age of consent has been a very convenient way for the pedophile who can persuade mothers and children that he will be a loving, supportive “husband.” There being no threat of violence or hurt, fear, or coercion in the relationship, and the child said she gave her consent, then the sex act is lawful, and the man, no matter how old, cannot be charged.

“Under the present law, where the age of consent is shockingly low at 12, these men cannot be charged with child sexual abuse or rape …”

That abusive loophole in the law will now change. The new proposed law makes any sexual activity with a child 16 and younger statutory rape. The proposed new law, already approved on final reading by the Philippine Congress and awaiting approval of the Senate, will also remove marriage as an exception and extinguish criminal liability in consensual, non-exploitative, non-abusive sexual relations between two minors whose age difference is not more than 4 years.

The delay by senators to approve the proposed bill raising the low age of sexual consent is allowing more and more children like Annalisa to be sexually abused and raped by older men. They are easily brought under their power and influence, and the parents also make money out of it.

Annalisa is safe now and is receiving healing, therapy, education, and legal assistance. Her medico-legal examination shows severe lacerations. We are learning how she suffered in silence, afraid of her mother, and was afraid to run away and get help. The prosecutor may charge the mother with the trafficking of her daughter. The men can be charged with the crime of using a trafficked child. That anti-trafficking law was framed to meet this kind of situation.

When passed, there’ll be legal history to end this shameful sham of the present law that in effect allows child sexual abuse. The Philippine Congress must pass this proposed important law without further delay. However, it is necessary to include a provision on a close-in-age exception to protect young people from being labeled sex offenders for having consensual sex with their peers.

The pandemic has caused more children to be locked down at home and vulnerable to sexual abuse in the family. The lockdown has created an internet explosion, and child pornography has proliferated in an unprecedented manner. The availability of low-cost smartphones has made the child images of abuse easy to access, even by children. One thing that can do is for government to pass a national law compelling the sellers of smartphones to turn on the built-in child porn blocking software that comes with the phone. Adults can have a passcode provided to close that blocking technique.

“When passed, there’ll be legal history to end this shameful sham of the present law that in effect allows child sexual abuse. The Philippine Congress must pass this proposed important law without further delay.”

There are also the ISPs who yet do not control the flow of child pornography through their servers. Despite the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) efforts to make these Internet Service Providers (ISPs) obey the law, Republic Act 9775, to install blocking software. As far as I know, they have not done it since they passed the law in 2009. The telecommunication corporations PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecom were in discussions with Microsoft about the blocking software called DNAPhoto and DNAVideo. They have that software but gave no information if the ISPs use it. So we can take that as a NO; the ISPs don’t have it blocking software; they refuse to install the blocking software.

Parents can be truly shocked and bewildered at changes in the personality and behavior of their children when they become secretive, remote, and uncommunicative. They might think their children are into drugs. Teenagers are likely going through trauma after viewing pornography on their cell phones. They are affected and cannot see their parents as they did before. The relationship will change forever, and they can rightly blame the erring ISPs for allowing the proliferation of pornography. Everywhere, this is a present disturbing crisis for families, a tragedy for children, a challenge for parents.

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