Mar 18, 2022

16 is the New Age of Sexual Consent

16 is the new age of sexual consent

By: Tranquil G.S. Salvador III

“The need to protect children from all forms of abuse is consistent with the State’s duty to uphold human rights.”

The enactment of Republic Act No. 11648, which raises the age of sexual consent to 16 years, is a victory for all Filipino parents and children. It is recognition that there are real and imminent threats to the physical, mental, moral and emotional well-being of the Filipino child.

According to the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), in 2018 pregnancies among very young adolescents (VYA), or those between the ages of 10 to 14, have increased. This is based on the data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), which also identified a 63% increase in births from this age group from 2011 to 2018.

It is worth noting that the percentage of women in 2013 who had had sexual intercourse before the age of 15 are significantly higher in Cagayan Valley, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, and Davao. This predisposition is primarily brought about by the lack of or limited education, and poor economic conditions (Philippine Statistics Authority).

To address the root causes of teenage pregnancy, the Executive Branch issued Executive Order 141, making the prevention of teenage pregnancies a national priority. It also identified that female adolescents were partnered with men outside of their age group, and “may be a result of coercion and unequal power relations between girls and older men”.

The passing of RA 11648 is just one among a number of measures taken by the government to address the sexual abuse, violence, maltreatment, and exploitation of the child. Under the said law, any person who shall have sexual intercourse with a child victim or offended party under 16 years of age, or one who is demented, shall be liable for rape.

This type of rape is also known as “statutory rape”, since the issue of consent with regard to sexual intercourse with another below 16 years of age is immaterial. In simpler words, if a person shall have sexual intercourse with a child 15 years of age or younger, he shall be criminally liable despite the child having consented to the sexual act.

Hence, the existence of force, threat, intimidation, abuse of authority, or fraudulent machination need not be proved to hold a person liable for statutory rape. All that the prosecution will have to prove to hold the sexual partner liable is that the child or offended party is below 16 years of age.

However, there shall be no criminal liability on the part of the person having sexual intercourse with a child under 16 years of age when the age difference between them does not exceed 3 years and the sexual act is proven to be consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitative. If the child is below 13 years of age, regardless of the presence of any of the aforementioned caveats, the sexual partner will be held criminally liable for rape (Section 1, Republic Act No. 11648).

Non-abusive shall mean the absence of undue influence, intimidation, fraudulent machinations, coercion, and threats; physical, sexual, psychological, or mental injury or maltreatment, either with intention or through neglect, during the conduct of sexual activities with the child victim (Section 1, Republic Act No. 11648).

On the other hand, non-exploitative shall mean that there is/are no actual or attempted act or acts of unfairly taking advantage of the child’s position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust during the conduct of sexual activities. (Section 1, Republic Act No. 11648).

For example, if an 18 year-old boy is prosecuted for statutory rape for having sexual intercourse with his 15 year-old girlfriend, he must prove in his defense that he did not abuse or exploit the latter, and that the sexual act was consensual. However, if the age difference is more than 3 years, all that the prosecution will have to prove to convict the person is that the sexual act was committed.

A person who shall have sexual intercourse or commit lascivious conduct with a child below 16 years of age who is exploited in prostitution or subjected to sexual abuse, shall be liable for rape or acts of lasciviousness, as the case may be. (Section 3, Republic Act No. 11648; amending Section 5, Republic Act 7610).

Any person who keeps in his company, in any public or private place, a minor 16 years of age or under, or who is ten years older than said minor, other than a relative within fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity, shall be criminally liable. Examples of these places are: hotels, motels, beer joints, discos, pension houses, or massage parlors, among others (Section 3, Republic Act No. 11648; amending Section 10, Republic Act 7610).

With these legal developments, public and private institutions tasked to educate, train, and care for children must include in their curriculum plans and learning sessions on the proper ways to identify, respond to and report rape and other sexual offenses. The Department of Education is also tasked to include subjects and topics concerning the rights and protection of children in the basic education curriculum (Section 3, Republic Act No. 11648).

The duty to educate, train, and care for children under the new law must extend to the Department of Interior and Local Government, which has power of control and supervision over barangays where most of these sexual offenses are committed. The government must also extend its educational campaign against sexual offenders using various media platforms, including and especially social media.

The need to protect children from all forms of abuse is consistent with the State’s duty to uphold human rights. This is not only necessary because of the youth’s important role in nation building, but because they are “gift[s] from the Lord” and are precious in His sight.

(Manila Standard, March 18, 2022)