Sex with a twelve-year-old is legal in the Philippines

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Photo by Alan via Wikimedia Commons

The greatest shame of the Philippines is the fact that it is legal under the old 1930 Penal Code for a 50-year-old man to have sex with a pre-pubescent 12-year-old child and get away with it if the man can convince a court that the child “gave consent.”

Soon, that will change, and thousands of child victims will receive justice. At present, many child victims that are under the power of parents and their abusers are forced to stay silent when sexually abused or to say to government officials or in court that “He is my boyfriend,” or that “I loved him.” The judge, with grave misgiving, will have no option but to dismiss the charge of rape, the child apparently having given consent.

Some parents force their children to live with the older man who pays them. If the child later escapes and gets help to bring a charge of abduction and rape to court, she will be strictly cross-examined by the defense lawyer to discredit her and “prove” she gave consent. She will have to answer questions such as “Why did you willingly go to that house? Why did you stay with the accused and only after months make a complaint?” and so on.

However, almost no one nowadays will agree that a 12-year old or even a 16-year-old child can give full consent to a sexual relationship with an older man. Few judges would acquit the accused, citing Republic Act 7610 (RA 7610). After many years of campaigning by child rights groups, RA 7610, otherwise known as the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act, was passed on 17 June 1992.

However, the age of consent in the Penal Code remained unchanged. After more than 90 years, this section of the Penal Code is to be challenged and changed. The proposed new law setting the age of consent at 16 is now stuck in the Senate. Sex with children is common practice and rampant in the Philippines as elsewhere. Every few minutes, a child or woman is raped, researchers say.

The Philippines had no child protection law until 1992, after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was passed in 1989. I was invited as a delegate for Philippine NGOs to the convention drafting conference held in Helsinki the previous year. The convention set the official age of a child as below 18 years of age in the Philippine law today. The UN Convention then made it mandatory for all nations to pass their own child protection laws. The Philippines passed RA 7610 in 1992, three years later.

“The Philippines had no child protection law until 1992, after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was passed in 1989.”

Yet, the age of consent remained at 12 until the present. It is vital to raise this age to protect children from being forced to say they gave consent to sexual abuse. Congress must pass a new law setting 16 as the age of consent without further delay. Ninety-one years of impunity for child abusers is long enough. It sends the wrong message that it is legally and morally okay to abuse a child sexually. That is what has to be changed in the culture and awareness of the people.

When passed, any act or attempted act of sexual abuse against a child will be statutory rape to be penalized with life in prison. Everyone must campaign and advocate for its swift completion and passing. Child sexual abuse, including online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, is increasing due to the pandemic. Last July 13 (15:00 New York Time), Mr. Francis Bermido, the President of the Preda Foundation, with 21 years experience in child protection, gave a speech to an online Interactive Multi-stakeholder Hearing organized by the President of the UN General Assembly, no less, in support of the preparatory process towards the high-level plenary meeting to review the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. He told the participants, mostly ambassadors to the United Nations, academicians, and civil society leaders, that “Pimps and traffickers have moved away from sex bars and instead arrange the sale of the children online and bring them to a resort or private apartment where they are raped and exploited.”

“The present RA 7610 is a strong law to protect children, and almost all cases of child sex abuse are tried under this law. The child victim has only to tell the court as clearly what happened and that the man sexually abused her, and she did not want it to happen.”

He also told the delegates how sexually abused and exploited children are helped to heal and win court cases against their abusers. “The primary therapeutic tool employed by Preda is called emotional release therapy. It allows the child-victims to freely express their pent up pain and anger and enables them to tell their story with credibility. This makes possible the quest for justice for victims. All too often, in society, victims are told to forgive their abusers and just move on. Victims do not get help and abusers and traffickers continue to abuse many more children. At Preda children are taught that justice comes before forgiveness. This means bringing perpetrators to trial and making them accountable for their crimes. Every year, the children assisted by Preda win on average 15 convictions- a significant feat given the tedious judicial process in the Philippines.”

The present RA 7610 is a strong law to protect children, and almost all cases of child sex abuse are tried under this law. The child victim has only to tell the court as clearly what happened and that the man sexually abused her, and she did not want it to happen. In addition, telling that she was scared or threatened or unable to get free of him is more than sufficient for a conviction. Convictions are coming more frequently as just judges believe the child more than the denial or weak alibi of the alleged abuser.

However, the low age of consent still gives child sex abusers a way out to force the child to say she gave consent. That will change with the new law. May the legislators act quickly and pass this before the present congress adjourns. If that happens, the process has to start all over again. May that not happen, so everybody must write letters to the senate committee members to finish the drafting of the law right away.

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