Bill raising age of consent must be passed soon

By Fr. Shay Cullen

It was only a few weeks ago when Annalisa (not her real name), 14 years old, was rescued by social workers and police and brought to the Preda home for abused children. We learned that Annalisa was from a broken home and only met her biological father when she was 12 and then only once. She has low education, and she was easily seduced into entering a sexual relationship with a 27-year-old man. She had been persuaded with gifts and promises of love by this older man, and her mother agreed. But the relationship did not work out.


Then in what appears to be a human trafficking crime, the mother gave Annalisa out again to another man, 26 years old, who became her live-in partner. Annalisa became dependent on him. After some time, her mother wanted to get her daughter back again since it is likely the man did not continue to pay her. When he refused, the mother went to the police.


Under the law at present, where the age of consent is shockingly low at 12, these men cannot be charged with child sexual abuse or rape even though Annalisa is only 14 and was 13 when it started. This is the lowest in all Asia if not the world.


It is a disgrace to the Philippines that prides itself on being a modern, civilized, child-friendly society with 32 laws protecting children and yet the age of consent has never changed.


This seriously low age of consent has been a very convenient way for the pedophile who can persuade mothers and children that he will be a loving, supportive “husband.” There being no threat of violence or hurt, fear or coercion in the relationship and the child said she gave her consent, then the sex act is lawful and the man no matter how old cannot be charged.


That abusive loophole in the law will now change. The new proposed law makes any sexual activity with a child 16 and younger statutory rape. The proposed new law, already approved on final reading by the Philippine Congress and awaiting approval of the Senate, will also remove marriage as an exception and will extinguish criminal liability in consensual, nonexploitative, and nonabusive sexual relations between two minors whose age difference is not more than 4 years.


The delay by senators to approve the proposed bill raising the low age of sexual consent is allowing more and more children like Annalisa to be sexually abused and raped by older men. They are easily brought under their power and influence and the parents also make money out of it.


Annalisa is safe now and is receiving healing, therapy, education and legal assistance. Her medico-legal examination shows severe lacerations. We are learning how she suffered in silence, afraid of her mother and afraid to run away and get help. It is possible that the prosecutor will charge the mother with trafficking of her daughter. The men can be charged with the crime of using a trafficked child. That anti-trafficking law was framed to meet this kind of situation.


When passed, legal history will be made to end this shameful sham of the existing law that in effect allows child sexual abuse. The Philippine Congress must pass this proposed important law without further delay. It is necessary, however, to include a provision on close-in-age exception to protect young people from being labeled as sex offenders for having consensual sex with their peers.


The pandemic has caused more children to be locked down at home and vulnerable to sexual abuse in the family. The lockdown has created an internet explosion and child pornography has proliferated in an unprecedented manner. The availability of low-cost smart phones has made child images of abuse easy to access even by children. One thing that can be done is for the government to pass a national law compelling the sellers of smart phones to turn on the built-in child porn blocking software that comes with the phone. A pass code can be given to adults who want to apply that blocking technique.


There are also the internet service providers (ISPs) that as yet do not control the flow of child pornography through their servers, despite efforts of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to make these ISPs obey the law, Republic Act 9775, to install blocking software. As far as I know, they have not done it since the law was passed in 2009. The telecommunication corporations PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecom were in discussions with Microsoft about the blocking software called DNAPhoto and DNAVideo. They have that software but give no information if the ISPs use it. So, we can take that as a No, the ISPs don’t have the blocking software. If they have it, they simply refuse to install the blocking software.


Parents can be truly shocked and bewildered at changes in the personality and behavior of their children when they become secretive, remote and uncommunicative. They might think their children are into drugs. The teenagers are likely going through a trauma after viewing pornography on their cellphones. They are affected and cannot see their parents as they did before. The relationship will change forever and they can rightly blame the erring ISPs for allowing the proliferation of pornography. Everywhere, this is at present a disturbing crisis for families, a tragedy for children and a challenge for parents.