WARNING: This article references the sexual abuse of minors.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte signed a bill on Friday to enact a law that raises the legal age of sexual consent from 12 to 16.
The new law outlines that unless both parties have an age gap of less than three years and have consented to a relationship involving a minor under the age of 16, the accused will be charged with statutory rape. If the victim is under 13 years old, it will be considered rape regardless of the situation.
In a statement, the convenor of the Child Rights Network, Romeo Dongete, described the new law as “a victory for the Filipino children” and the beginning of “ending child rape” in a country that previously had the youngest age of legal consent.
The new law also closes several loopholes used by sex offenders in the past to avoid punishment. Victims between the ages of 12 and 15 will be required to prove their age in addition to stating whether a sexual act was consensual.
The accused will also no longer be able to use “marriage for forgiveness” as a defense, which previously allowed sex offenders to be exonerated if the victim had consented to marriage.
Penalites for rape have also been gender equalized so that any adult commiting statutory rape against either boys or girls will face life imprisonment, whereas previously the punishment for statuatory rape against boys was only six to 12 years in prison. Those who committed sexual crimes against girls typically faced up to life imprisonment.
Demands for changing the legal age of sexual consent had previously been denied by lawmakers until they faced pressure from several organizations such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization and local NGO groups, such as the Council for the Welfare of Children, reported South China Morning Post.
One of the bill’s main sponsors, Lawrence Fortun, described the new law as “a major step forward,” saying that it is “pushing for stronger protection against rape and other forms of sexual abuse.”