After amending a nearly century-old law, the Philippines has raised the age of sexual consent to 16, a move child rights activists say will help protect young people from rape and abuse.
With a majority of Catholics, the nation had one of the lowest age requirements for consent in the world, allowing adults to have sex with children as young as 12 years old. President Rodrigo Duterte signed a revised law on Friday that makes sex with people under 16 illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in jail.
If the age difference between the couples is less than three years and the sex is consensual, teenage couples may be exempt from this rule.
Activists for children’s rights have sought to raise the consent age for decades, but the deeply religious nation where abortion is illegal and divorce is illegal has resisted their efforts.
The bill was ratified by both houses of Congress in December.
In the Philippines, which is plagued by poverty, online child sex abuse has become a global problem, and official data shows that 500 girls aged 10-19 give birth daily. UNICEF said the study showed 1 in 5 children aged 13-17 have been sexually assaulted or raped during their childhood.
Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center executive director Rowena Legaspi said the law sets a very clear message that raping children is a heinous crime. It guarantees children the same protection no matter their gender. Moreover, it demands that the education department includes “age-appropriate” lessons on children’s rights in basic school curriculums for both boys and girls.
President Duterte declared teen pregnancy a “national priority” last year, citing both the increased risk of health problems for young mothers and their babies as well as the losses incurred by young mothers.