The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a measure raising the age of statutory rape from the current 12 years old to 16 years old to protect young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.

With 207 affirmative votes, three negative votes, and no abstention, the chamber passed House Bill 7836 which sets the age of sexual consent to 16 and amends the 23-year-old Anti-Rape Law, as well as the Revised Penal Code.

Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, one of the principal authors of the bill, said “this progress means a step closer to the justice we have been fighting for our children victimized by heartless individuals and the gap in present laws.”

Romualdez appealed to the Senate for the immediate passage of the bill.

“Definitely, no children should be left without sufficient protection especially from rape. Child rape is an ugly and painful reality that we must collectively confront and address immediately and decisively. But it is not enough that we are indignant,” Romualdez said.

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Romualdez said the establishment of a minimum age of sexual consent is the most important and critical criteria in protecting minors from sexual violence since the present Anti-Rape Law establishes the age of sexual consent at twelve years.

“This means any sexual intercourse with a minor who has not reached the age of twelve is automatically regarded as rape, regardless of whether they say or appeared to have voluntarily engaged in the sexual act. However, the moment that child reaches the exact age of twelve, the law assumes that the child is mature enough to give consent to another person for any sexual activity,” Romualdez said.

If the bill is passed into law, Romualdez said any adult who has sexual intercourse with a minor below 16 years old will be guilty of rape even if the minor has given his or her consent to the sexual act.

“By establishing the crime of statutory rape to be any sexual activity with a child, of either sex, under the age of 16 – the law makes certain the punishment of those who commit such crime, without unnecessarily furthering the emotional and physical trauma of the child that may be brought about by a lengthy court proceeding or the need for any further physiological or material evidence,” Romualdez explained.

The measure seeks to impose reclusion perpetua or 40 years imprisonment for the crime of statutory rape against minors who are under 16 years old.

Statutory rape is non-forcible sexual activity in which one of the individuals is below the age of consent or the age required to legally consent to the behavior.

Current Philippine laws provide that sexual intercourse with children below 12 years old is illegal and tantamount to rape.

The bill also defines grooming as the predatory conduct of establishing a relationship, trust, or emotional connection with a minor under 18 years old to perpetrate sexual abuse and exploitation.

When grooming results in the consummation of any acts of sexual abuse or exploitation, the person responsible for the grooming shall be liable for rape.

Under the measure, subsequent valid marriage between the victim and offender will not extinguish criminal liability.

It shall also consider as aggravating circumstances in the commission of rape the following: when the victim becomes pregnant, when the victim suffers a permanent mental or psychological disability, or when grooming is used. (PNA)

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