PCW lauds all initiatives  to pass laws amending rape by raising the age of sexual consent, prohibiting  child marriage, and hopes for the passage of a law adopting divorce


The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) welcomes and lauds proposed legislative measures  protecting women’s and children’s rights in both Houses of Congress, especially on raising the age of sexual consent in rape cases and prohibiting child, early, and forced marriages (CEFM), and hopes for the passage of bills adopting divorce in the Philippines.

On September 21, 2021, the Senate passed Senate Bill No. 2332 on the amendments to the Anti-Rape Law, including increasing the age for determining statutory rape and other acts of sexual abuse and exploitation to protect children. The House of Representatives approved the corresponding Bill in December last year.

Raising the Age of Sexual Consent

The PCW actively lobbied for the strengthening of the provisions of Republic 8353 or the Anti-Rape Law under its Women’s Priority Legislative Agenda for the 18th Congress, a set of proposed legislations that seeks to amend or repeal the discriminatory provisions of existing laws and pushes for the formulation and adoption of new laws that promote, protect, and fulfill women’s rights and empowerment.

In 2020, the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality (CWGE), chaired by Rep. Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba, approved the bill on the proposed amendments to the Anti-Rape Law, which was thereafter approved by the lower house in the same year.

Senate Bill No. 2332, on the other hand, adopted the recommendation to increase the age of statutory rape from under 12 years old to under 16 years old. This Bill has passed the second reading in the Senate and is hoped to be approved on the third reading.

Statutory rape refers to sexual relations involving a person below the legal age of sexual consent and it is penalized because persons of this age are deemed too young to decide for themselves in terms of engaging in sexual intercourse. The existing law, RA 8353, sets this age at below 12 years old, the lowest age of sexual consent in Southeast Asia. Thus, any sexual intercourse with a minor below the age of 12 is automatically regarded as rape, even if the minor consented to it. However, the current law considers a child aged 12 years old or above as mature enough to give sexual consent.

PCW Executive Director Atty. Kristine Rosary E. Yuzon-Chaves is hopeful that lawmakers can see the urgency and the importance of protecting children, especially because the current provision on the age of sexual development makes them vulnerable to sexual predators.

“With the existing law, some children aged 13 years old and above are subjected to interrogations to prove in court that they did not consent to the sexual intercourse. Children who are asked to relive the experience are left traumatized, confused and conflicted as to their own experience, and worse, they begin to blame themselves. PCW is very thankful for women and children’s rights champions in Congress, such as Rep. Maria Lourdes Acosta-Alba, who advocate for their protection through the passage of laws or its amendments, such as the amendment of RA 8353”, Yuzon-Chaves said.

The proposal to raise the legal age of sexual consent in the country to at least 16 years old also addresses the recommendation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee in its 2016 Concluding Observations on the Philippines’ Combined 7th and 8th Periodic Report.

Prohibiting Child Marriage

The PCW is also earnestly pushing for the enactment of the bill prohibiting child marriage, another legislation meant to protect children. It is the stand of children’s rights advocates that early child marriage has adverse physical, psychologial, and emotional effects and will curtail the development and attainment of a child’s full potential, among others. While this is not part of the WPLA, PCW actively coordinated with Congress and the Office of the President to fast-track its passage. Last year, the Senate passed the consolidated bill on this, while in September this year, the House of Representatives approved the legislation on 3rd reading and currently the legislation is for the action of the Bicameral Conference Committee.

Senate Bill 1373, which was approved by the Senate, defines child marriage as “any marriage entered into where one or both parties are children (persons below 18 years old), and solemnized in civil or church proceedings, or in any recognized traditional, cultural or customary manner.”  If enacted into law, a person who causes, fixes, facilitates, or arranges a child marriage shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period and a fine of not less than PHP40,000. It also imposes a heavier penalty if the perpetrator is an ascendant, step-parent, or guardian of the minor and punishes individuals who officiate such marriage.

In the Philippines, the legal age of marriage under the Family Code is eighteen years old. However, in some religions and cultures, child marriage is practiced. Some allow the marriage of a female at the age of puberty, which is presumed upon reaching the age of fifteen. 

Under the CEDAW to which the Philippines is a State Party, child marriage is prohibited. It states that the “betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory”.

Thus, if a law that makes child marriage illegal is passed, it will manifest Congress’ resolve to uphold our commitments under international laws and carry out the provisions under the Magna Carta of Women.

Adopting Divorce in the Family Code

The PCW also hopes that advocates of women’s rights in the legislative body can rally behind the bills adopting divorce in the Family Code. This has already hurdled the committee level at the lower house while bills on the same are still pending at the Senate’s  Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality. Under our policy recommendations, divorce shall be allowed based on grounds for legal separation under the Family Code, allow divorced spouses to remarry, and grant women the right to initiate divorce on the same terms as men.

The 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) results showed that one in four married women has experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by a current or most recent husband/partner. Domestic violence can also affect the children who witness the violence which could result to aggressiveness, hyperarousal, anti-social behaviors, fearfulness, withdrawn behaviors, avoidant/inhibited behaviors, and developmental regression.

“While the PCW recognizes the sanctity of marriage as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, we also acknowledge the realities on the ground, with some women being trapped in abusive and dysfunctional marriages which are already beyond repair. By integrating absolute divorce in the Family Code, we can give these women a legal remedy to free themselves from abuse,” Atty. Yuzon-Chaves shared.

Yuzon-Chaves further said, “PCW shares the views of Senator Christopher “Bong” Go that the adoption of divorce in the Philippines is not meant to make divorce easily attainable in the Philippines. By proposing the adoption of divorce, it is not envisioned that spouses are given the option to sever the marriage ties “just because.” Divorce is proposed to be granted on specific grounds provided under the law and is meant to help spouses trapped in abusive marriages.”

The Philippines is the only State in the world apart from the Vatican without a generally applicable divorce law. At present, those who want to sever marriage ties have very limited options, including filing a petition for declaration of nullity of marriage that should be void from the beginning and annulment which may only be granted if the marriage is valid but voidable for some ground existing at the time of the marriage. Another option for troubled couples is legal separation, which only allows them to live separately and divide their properties, among others, but does not cut their marital ties and does not allow them to remarry.

Indeed, given the limited rigid grounds to dissolve the marriage (physical abuse, regardless of how repetitive, is not even a ground for annulment) that can be availed of, spouses are forced to remain together, which is detrimental not only to their well-being but also those of their children. Moreover, these actions can also be lengthy and expensive, which is a difficult burden to bear especially for women who do not have the financial resources to initiate legal action.

The PCW encourages lawmakers to consider divorce and enable victims of domestic abuse, mostly women, to pursue healing and second chances in life.

This is also in keeping with international commitments, like Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provides that “men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution”.

Section 19 of Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW) states that “the State shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and shall ensure: (a) the same rights to enter into and leave marriages or common-law relationships referred to under the Family Code without prejudice to personal or religious beliefs;”

Aside from the aforementioned proposals, the WPLA also includes the following: Repealing the Revised Penal Code provisions on Adultery and Concubinage; Ensuring Women’s Equal Rights in Marriage and Family Relations; Recognizing Sexual Abuse and Focusing on the Violence and Abusive Conduct as Grounds for Legal Separation; Enacting the Anti-Prostitution Law; Upholding the Right to Life and Security of Spouses and Daughters by Repealing Article 247 of the Revised Penal Code; Enacting a Women’s Political Participation and Representation Law; Enacting a Law Prohibiting Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE; and Enacting a Magna Carta of Workers in the Informal Economy.

During the 17th Congress, two of PCW’s WPLA were enacted into law: the Expanded Maternity Leave Act and the Safe Spaces Act.