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Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One The safe legal age of consent — 18 for youth

The safe legal age of consent — 18 for youth

 

FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

Protecting children from sexual abuse has progressed greatly from medieval times when 11- and 12-year-old children, sometimes even younger, were considered capable of giving their consent to be sexually abused by adults. Pedophilia and child sexual abuse were widespread and condoned or ignored by much of society as they are today.

That has changed somewhat in recent years in most countries, but not yet in the Philippines where the age of consent is still 12. As such, sex with children below 12 years old is considered statutory rape. This is problematic because this means that sex with a child as young as 12 is not automatically considered child rape. The child and child rights advocates have to prove in court that child rape occurred, and this process can be traumatic to the child.

The Penal Code has to be changed, and bills are pending in the congress but irresponsibly not acted upon. The age of consent is the age set by law when a person is considered legally competent to freely give his or her approval by free will to acts of sexual nature. Below that set age, it is statutory rape.

The safe legal age of consent is 18. That is what 38 countries have. Most western countries have 16 to 17 years. In Portugal, it is 21. In South American countries and Austria, it is 14. In Tokyo, Japan it is 18 although the national law sets it at a low 13 years of age. See the complete world list on www.preda.org


Some advocates consider the Philippines to be notorious, medieval and backward with 12 years as the age of consent in the Penal Code, the lowest in Asia. In South Korea, consent is 13 years of age. Nigeria is the most notorious of all — with 11 years of age. Most judges and psychologists know that a child under 18 cannot give full consent by free will to sexual acts.

The shocking reality is the child protection laws worldwide are flouted, ignored and violated, and crimes against children are widespread and tolerated. The Philippine sex bars offering minors operate with mayor’s permits. The rates of reporting are notoriously low and convictions are infrequent. In the Preda Foundation, an organization that protects and heals abused children, the average number of annual convictions is 18 with about another 32 ongoing cases. Judges are now sensitive and aware of the gravity of child abuse and tend to believe the clear, direct testimony of the child victim rather than the contrived alibi or denial of the accused. Child sexual abuse is society’s dirty secret, and it is like a pandemic everywhere. One in every three girls is sexually abused at least once in their lives, experts say. That’s why preventive awareness building is so important.

Angelica was only 11 years old when her mother allowed her live-in partner to abuse her for four years. The mother held down the child while the man raped her repeatedly. The mother told the child it was normal and even if the child hated it, she was conditioned to endure it. It was only when Angelica had failing grades and her teacher asked her why she told the teacher about the abuse. That school never taught the children how to recognize and report abuse. The teacher had the child rescued and brought to the Preda Foundation home for abused children, where Angelica is presently receiving care, protection and therapy with 55 other children. A criminal case was filed against the abuser.

Despite the laws forbidding sexual activity with a child below the age of consent, the laws are flouted and ignored, and, in many countries, they are circumvented by child marriage. Pity the little girls as young as eight to 15 that are “married off” to middle-aged adults — not only in the remote villages of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and India and some African countries but more shockingly in the United States of America too. Thousands more children are sexually abused as prostitutes under the pretext of “pleasure marriages .” These arrangements are approved by a cleric and then dissolved by “divorce” after a day or night. (See the report on www.preda.org)

But in the “Great Again” USA, child marriages are legal and more common than anyone could ever think. So-called “marriages” of minors are allowed in most US states. There is no law preventing these. These are legal with parental consent and judicial approval. A judge can allow a 12-year-old to marry a 40-year-old. Girls as young as 12 in Virginia, 13 in New Hampshire and 14 in Alabama are able to legally marry. In Florida, an 11-year-old was forced to marry her 20-year-old rapist with family and church approval. The states of Delaware and New Jersey are exceptions. Since 2018, they have banned underage marriages in all circumstances.

The depraved human desire to sexually abuse children is a heinous crime that can be prevented by more committed, focused, preventive campaigning and national awareness-building. It needs to be done everywhere. Children’s lives are destroyed broken, wasted and childhood suffering lasts to the end of the victim’s life unless there is healing, empowerment and justice.

This is what we can all work for, with hope and trust that the common effort will change public attitudes, bring perpetrators to justice and make all knowledgeable and protective of the rights of the child.

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Today’s Front Page January 25, 2020

Today’s Front Page January 25, 2020