For decades, activists in the Philippines have been lobbying to get a law passed that would raise the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16. Finally, their efforts have paid off. On Monday, the office of President Rodrigo Duterte announced he'd signed a bill into law that officially does just that, in an effort to protect children from sexual abuse and rape, reports Reuters. According to the new law, an adult engaging in sexual contact with anyone younger than 16 will be considered to be committing statutory rape, unless the age difference between the two parties was less than three years and the sex was consensual, not abusive, and nonexploitative. If either party is younger than 13, that exemption is off the table.
The only other country that has a lower age of consent than 12 is Nigeria, which places that age at 11, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. A 2015 study by UNICEF and the Center for Women's Resources found that 70% of rape victims in the Philippines were children. Activists who'd pushed since the '80s to have such a law passed have long said that the previous age of consent of 12 allowed sexual predators to abuse young girls, as they could threaten or coerce their victims into having sex, then simply claim they'd consented, per CNN. International rights groups have also noted the high levels of teen pregnancy and sex trafficking in the Philippines—partly caused by the low age of consent, according to children's rights advocates.
Those who've been key in the fight to raise the age were relieved about the recent development. "With this law, we will be definitively drawing a line that adults cannot cross," says Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who co-sponsored the bill, per the Philippine Daily Inquirer. "They cannot say a kid below 16 gave them consent. That is statutory rape, plain and simple." A spokesperson from the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, which offers legal help to poor and marginalized Filipinos, adds, per CNN: "We welcome this legal development and hope that it will help protect young girls from rape and sexual abuse." (Read more Philippines stories.)