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As Congress’ bicameral conference committee for the bill “Increasing the Age of Statutory Rape” concluded its deliberations, advocates for the prevention of child sexual abuse ended National Children’s Month with high hopes for the law that can best protect Filipino children against sexual abuse and exploitation.

The Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) lauded the measure, also known as the End Child Rape Bill, the passage of its consolidated version in the Senate and House of Representatives and its impending ratification and enactment,

The bill contains critical provisions increasing the age for determining the act of statutory rape from below 12 years old to below 16 years old. It equalizes the protection for boy and girl victims of rape, and removes the “marriage as forgiveness” exemption where the offender is freed of legal responsibility if the perpetrator marries the victim. It also includes a “sweetheart clause” to ensure that adolescents nearing in age and who engage in consensual, non-abusive, and non-exploitative sex are not labeled as sex offenders.

Zenaida Rosales, CPTCSA executive director, said “We can now draw strength from this measure that finally provides a stronger protection for children.”

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The CPTCSA has been working for a safer world for children, especially for boys, for more than 20 years. It just concluded with JJWC the 10th year observance of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Consciousness Week with the theme, “Batang Handa at May Alam, Kaisa sa Pagharap sa Bagong Normal!” which focused on increasing awareness of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA of 2006 or RA 9344) and its implementation in the context of the new normal and to generate participation from children and youth in advocacy activities.

The JJWC is a policymaking, coordinating, and monitoring body tasked with the implementation of RA 9344 that establishes a juvenile justice and welfare system covering children at risk and children in conflict with the law, from prevention to rehabilitation to reintegration.

Both organizations are also ending National Children’s Month this November with CPTCSA continuing its Blue Umbrella Day (BUD) campaign that it launched in February 2020 with the Family for Every Child (FEC), a London-based global alliance of civil society organizations working to improve the lives of vulnerable children around the world.

The BUD campaign draws attention to the need to protect boys against sexual abuse and to put more attention to the boy child by encouraging societies to lessen the risks of boys from harm and to nurture them in ways that best support their wellbeing, including changing social norms of how boys and men should behave and be treated. The campaign hopes to engage the United Nations into adopting the movement into an international day of advocacy.

“As boys are more likely the victims of abuse and the offenders, it is important to understand their situations and empower them to know rights and to be able to receive care and protection,” said Rosales. She said the situation often leads to societies being silent on the issue, which puts boys at a higher risk instead of being cared for and moved them away from risks.

Rosales added, “Those who are aspiring for public office in 2022 must continue this move by supporting and protecting child rights for Filipino children and the next generations of children.”

The CPTCSA said sexual violence affecting boys is taboo in many countries including the Philippines, where sexual abuse done on children are higher among boys than girls. Boys are also more highly vulnerable to criminal acts and offenses than girls.

Available data from the National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children 2016 found that one in four children (24.9%) suffer from any form of sexual violence in any setting, with the prevalence higher among males, 28.7%, than females, 20.1%. The survey also noted that 1 in 5 children aged 13-17 experienced sexual violence, while 1 in 25 experienced rape during childhood.

The CPTCSA said sexual violence affects all children, but they have different experiences, forms of disclosure, and recovery from it. But the effects on children can lead to self-harm, depression, anxiety, hostility, and suicide. Norms and ideas of masculinity can have a serious effect on boys’ willingness to disclose sexual violence and to seek help, and this is why the country needs better policies to address the problem.

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