Sex with 12-year-olds is legal in the Philippines

IT IS PERFECTLY legal in the Philippines—but almost nowhere else—for an adult to engage in consensual sex with a preteen. For as long as the country has had an age of sexual consent, it has been fixed at 12, among the lowest in the world (see chart).

The Philippines is a deeply religious, largely Catholic country. It remains the only place in the world, other than the Vatican, where divorce is illegal (except for Muslim Filipinos). The low age of consent is not a sign of sexual liberalism, but the reverse: it is a holdover from the patriarchal mores instilled by Spanish colonialists, who had little compunction about men marrying young girls.

Campaigners see a link between the age of consent and the many sexual horrors suffered by Filipino children. More rapes are committed against children than adult women. Roughly one child in five has experienced sexual abuse of some sort. The abuse of children for dissemination online has grown rapidly recently, especially during covid-related lockdowns last year.


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