I vote yes to House Bill No. 7836.
The 2015 National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children, the first of its kind ever conducted in the country, revealed that one in every five or 17.1% of children aged 13 to 17 years old experienced sexual violence, while one in 25 or 3.2% of all respondents experienced forced consummated sex during childhood.
Rape is a heinous and brutal crime that dehumanizes even as it terrorizes the victims, who more often than not, are women and girls. Physical abuse and sexual violence against women and children are not only among the most widespread of human rights violations; they also have the most devastating and long-lasting harmful effects on survivors.
The United Nations did not mince any words when it declared that: “A third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, half of women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family, and violence perpetrated against women is as common a cause of death and incapacity for those of reproductive age, as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than road accidents and malaria combined.”
Although sexual violence is overwhelmingly committed against women because of unequal power relations and aggravated by gender inequality, adolescent girls, children with disabilities, and girls coming from marginalized communities are especially vulnerable to sexual violence.
With its comprehensive and reasonably stringent provisions, House Bill 7836 or “An Act Increasing the Age for Determining Statutory Rape”, among others, is a welcome and most opportune piece of legislation that will give our justice system an additional and more effective weapon to wield against perpetrators of rape and violence, especially against minors, even as it guarantees special protection and assures greater safeguards for children.
Among these all-encompassing and more rigorous provisions are:
- Increasing of the age to determine statutory rape from below 12 to below 16;
- Ensuring equal protection to all victims, regardless of sex;
- Guaranteeing extra protection against sexual assault and violence for children with special needs and disabilities;
- Implementing the “close in age exemption” that aims to reduce the penalty or provides an exemption from crime in cases where there is only a minor difference between the ages of the alleged juvenile perpetrator and the reported young victim, who are usually referred to as the young couple;
- Punishing the act of perfidious act of “grooming” children by gaining their trust and friendship so that they can be one’s prospective victim; and
- Non-exemption from criminal liability of a perpetrator who subsequently marries his rape victim.
I have some reservation with respect to this provision considering the subsequent valid marriage between the offender and the victim. To foreclose the possibility of a pre-arranged marriage in order to exempt the rapist from culpability, the better provision is to prohibit the marriage between the offender and the victim for a period of five (5) years from the commission of the crime to afford the prosecution to prosper. This could be taken up in the bicameral conference meeting.
Actual sexual violence or even merely the threat of such violence and abuse can exert coercive control and real terror over children. They impact negatively on their physical and mental health, prevent them from performing well in school, impair learning and harm their inherent potentials, damage self-worth, and normalize violence.
House Bill 7836 is a holistic, responsive, pro-active, and non-discriminatory measure and a clear signal that Philippine society cannot and will not tolerate violence against women and children – especially their sexual abuse and exploitation.
We owe our children protection from all forms of violence, most especially sexual violence. We owe our children a just and safe world where they can live securely and grow up to be compassionate and responsible adults. We owe our children the chance to live without fear of assault and the horror and trauma of a crime committed against their person. We owe our children a clear and comprehensive law that will shield them from those who wish to destroy their innocence and take away their childhood. We owe our children the passage of House Bill 7836 into law.
We also owe the leadership of the House, the Joint Committees on Revision of Laws and Welfare of Children, as well as the relentless efforts of the principal authors like Representatives Yedda Romualdez, Martin Romualdez, Roberto Puno, Lawrence Fortun, Jose Francisco Benitez, among many others, for the passage of this bill and its final enactment into law.