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Gatchalian: Uphold child rights education while enforcing law vs. statutory rape

While the age of sexual consent in the Philippines has been raised from 12 to 16 to protect children from violence and abuse, Senator Win Gatchalian is pressing the need to uphold child rights education at the basic education level.

VALENZUELA CITY, Philippines – Youngsters while away time while using their cellphones outside their school, 28 Nov 2018. photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

Republic Act No. 11648, which was signed last March, provides that those who engage in sexual activities with children below 16 are liable for committing statutory rape. Under the law, which Gatchalian co-authored and co-sponsored, any person can be considered a rape victim.

A “Romeo and Juliet clause” is included in the law, which provides that there shall be no criminal liability on a person engaging in sex with a person below 16 years old if the age difference is not more than three years. The sexual act, however, has to be consensual, non-abusive, and non-exploitative. The exception does not apply to victims under 13.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is also mandated to include an age-appropriate subject concerning the rights and protection of children in relation to the new law. Public and private institutions engaged in the education, training, and care of children shall ensure that their curriculum for staff development shall cover duties and responsibilities in identifying, responding to, and reporting rape and other sexual offenses.

For Gatchalian, this should prompt the DepEd to strengthen both child rights education and comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), which the agency seeks to implement in compliance with Republic Act 10354 (Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012). Gatchalian also cited the role of children protection programs which are implemented by child protection committees (CPCs) at the school level.

Gatchalian emphasized, however, that the implementation of CSE is hounded by challenges which should be addressed. A March 2021 discussion by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) identified gaps such as the lack of qualified manpower and lack of sufficient facilities, training, and instructional materials.

“Bahagi ng papel ng mga paaralan ang pagtuturo tungkol sa karapatan ng mga kabataan at pangangalaga sa kanilang mga kalusugan, kaya naman dapat nating paigtingin ang kakayahan ng mga paaralan, lalo na ng mga guro at mga kawani, upang magabayan ang ating mga mag-aaral,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.