PCOO exec wants age limit for statutory rape raised

MANILAPresidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy has underscored the need to raise the age limit for statutory rape to protect young people from sexual abuse and exploitation.

We need to continuously work on child abuse and exploitation. Right now, one of the most worrisome issue regarding this is our legal definition of statutory rape- which has become not just irrelevant but dangerous, Badoy said in an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Badoy, recently approached by UNICEF to champion children's rights, supports the legislative and public campaign to #ENDChildRape, recognizing that the country's current age of consent set at 12 years old is too low.

UNICEF is part of the Child Rights Network that launched the #ENDChildRape campaign in Davao City last July 17, 2018 where a message of support was given by Mayor Sara Z Duterte.

Statutory rape is punished severely. When a victim goes to court, the prosecution need only to prove the age and fact of sexual violence. There is no need for the victim to testify on how the rape took place, or what the rapist did to her, preventing re-victimization. If the victim is 12 years and above, it's no longer statutory rape. This kind of rape, because of the age of the victim, will open her to testify in court which is very traumatic and is like being victimized again, Badoy said.

She said the country's age of sexual consent is one of the lowest in the world and the lowest in the Southeast Asian region.

Citing data from the Center for Women's Resources, Badoy said rape happens every 62 minutes in the country, with seven out of 10 victims being children.

According to UNICEF, one in every 25 Filipino children, between 13-17 years old, had experienced rape. This means that a significant sector of children is not as protected because they are above the age of statutory rape.

Based on the data from the Philippine National Police, there is also a 48 percent increase in reported cases of child rape, including incest and attempted rape, from 2008 to 2014.

Badoy has appealed to Congress to hasten the passage of the bill amending Republic Act 8353 or Anti-Rape Law, hoping lawmakers would increase the age to determine statutory rape to at least 16 years old.

This bill increasing the age to determine statutory rape has been pending in Congress for a long time. Of course, we want to increase the age limit to 16 or 18 years old, she said.

We need to increase the statutory rape age because vulnerable ages of children above 12 are not afforded legal protection and they are also re-traumatized by court proceedings, she added.

She said sexual perpetrators also easily get away because they can post bail or only get community service.

Sometimes cases of rape are easily downgraded into acts of lasciviousness. The current age of consent allows perpetrators to get away with child rape and victimize more, she said.

It's very healing for a child if the perpetrator will be punished even if the perpetrator is someone she loves- like her father. It's very healing because then it makes the child realize that a grievous crime had been committed against her and that none of that is her fault. At least the child has a fighting chance to heal and recover, she added.

In some cases, Badoy said victim gets offered marriage b6 perpetrator which, she adds, is "just plain sick and obscene".

Badoy, representative of PCOO to Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACACP), is hoping Congress would also include rape committed against boys in the proposed measure.

Boys are not recognized as rape victims under the law. If the victims are boys, that's only sexual assault, which has punishment of only 6-12 years imprisonment but if statutory rape carries with it a punishment of life imprisonment, she explained.

With President Rodrigo R. Duterte giving his full support in protecting children, Badoy also emphasized the need to address rampant online child sexual exploitation.

This kind of crime can be done so easily because of our modern technology, with the perpetrators committing child exploitation even if they are outside the country, Badoy said. We are doing something about it, but it's not enough. So we really need to be there and fighting for this thing and protecting our children, she added.

On February 5, 2018, Duterte signed Proclamation No. 417 declaring the second Tuesday of February every year as 'Safer Internet Day for Children Philippines.'

Badoy said Proclamation 417 promotes better and safer Internet use for everyone particularly children.

Medial literacy is so essential to teach our children because it empowers them and gives them better weapons to protect themselves when they're in cyberspace. We also want to create a cyber ecology that's respectful, compassionate and inclusive. And we teach them that respectful discourse devoid of disinformation is cool. And that fake news and hate is so not cool, Badoy said.

The 'Safer Internet Day' was first introduced in various countries in Europe in 2004 and is currently being observed by more than 100 countries to raise awareness on online issues faced by children.

The celebration of the Safer Internet Day in the Philippines will provide a platform to share current initiatives and forge collaboration among duty bearers and stakeholders in addressing these online threats to children.

In 2017, there were over 67 million users of internet alone placing the country 12th among the world's internet users.

Available data from various government agencies indicate the alarming increase in the incidence of online child sexual exploitation.

Data from the Department of Justice-Office of Cyber Crime show that 37,715 cyber tips were received in 2016, this further increased to 45,645 in 2017.

These reports came from US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which requires [US] ISPs and ESPs to submit reports pertaining to child abuse being committed with the use of their systems.

On the other hand, 2013-2016 data from the Philippine National Police listed a total of 731 cases with 32 of these directly violating Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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