Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom.
— Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror
TAKE note, in the Philippines, it is legal under the 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—that is if the respondent (or accused) can convince a court that the child “gave consent.”
But that will change soon and justice will be given to thousands of child victims who for a long time have quietly (and secretly) suffered in the abusive hands of people whom they have considered as their guardians and protectors.
Actually and until now, many Pinoy children are under pressure from their parents and abusers not to reveal the maltreatment done against them and they are forced to stay silent. Worst, some are prompted to testify to government officials or in court that their rapist “is their boyfriend,” or that “they loved him.” And the judge—with grave misgivings—will have no option but to dismiss the charge of rape since the child apparently gave consent.
In other cases, parents force their children to live with an older person who pays them and if by some way the child later escapes and gets help to bring a charge of abduction and rape to court, the child victim will be strictly cross-examined by the defense lawyer out to discredit him or her to “prove” that the abuse was commited with consent. For a fact, the victim will have to answer questions such as “Why did you willingly go to that house?” and “Why did you stay with the accused and only after months make a complaint?” and so on.
Appalling though this may seem, however, almost no one nowadays would agree that a 12-year-old or even a 16-year-old can give full consent to a sexual relationship with an older person and few judges would acquit the accused who committed the crime.
Then on June 17, 1992 and after many years of campaigning by child rights groups, Republic Act 7610 (RA 7610), or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, was passed into law.
Still, despite the passage and enactment of RA 7610, the age of consent in the Penal Code has remained unchanged. And now after almost a century of waiting, this section of the Penal Code is being challenged and changed. Yet the new law that is being proposed and sets the age of consent at 16 is now stuck in the August halls of the Senate.
The truth is that most of our legislators don’t realize that sex with children is a common thing in our country as proven by unofficial data that every three minutes, a child or woman is raped in some dark place or corner and far from peering eyes.
In 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was passed in 1989 following the convention-drafting conference in Helsinki the previous year. The official age of a child was set by the convention as below 18 years of age, as it is in our Penal Code today. The UN convention then made it mandatory for all nations to pass their own child protection laws and here in the Philippines, this law (RA 7610) was enacted three years later in 1992.
But the age of consent remained at 12, so with the dramatic developments of our time, we now realize it is vital to raise this age to protect children from being forced to say they gave consent to sexual abuse. Thus the new law setting 16 as the age of consent must be passed without further delay. Ninety-one years of impunity for child abusers is long enough because it sends the preposterous message that it is legally and morally acceptable to sexually abuse a child.
This must be changed in our culture and in the awareness of every Filipino!
If this law is passed, any act or attempted act of sexual abuse against a child will be deemed as statutory rape and penalized with life imprisonment.
And amidst the ongoing health crisis brought about by the global coronavirus pandemic that has triggered strict lockdowns, child sexual abuse, including online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, has become prevalent and is actually on the rise with most children and young women locked in their homes and restricted to go out from their residences.
Early this month, Preda Foundation president Francis Bermido revealed that “pimps and traffickers have moved away from sex bars and instead arrange the sale of children online and bring them to a resort or private apartment where they are raped and exploited.”
And to further make things worse, victims are often told to forgive their abusers and just move on. Victims simply do not get help and their abusers and traffickers continue to abuse many others as they seemingly remain ‘untouchable’ and free to commit their evil motives.
But an amended RA 7610 will be a strong law that would protect women and children with almost all cases of sexual abuse going to be tried under this law. Stipulated under this law, victims have only to tell the court clearly what happened and that the accused committed the abuse and they did not want it to happen. To tell, in addition, that they were scared or threatened or unable to escape or gain freedom would be more than sufficient for the court to rule a conviction.
However, unless the amendments are approved in both Houses of Congress, the low age of consent will still give abusers a way out if they can force the child to say consent was given.
Hopefully, this will change with the new law. So now we fervently pray that our legislators will act quickly and pass this law before the present Congress adjourns because if this unfortunately happens, the process must start all over again and all those who hate abuse and respect the dignity of every person, especially the young, must then write letters to members of the Senate committee to finish drafting the law right away.