The Philippines is about to move forward with a legislative bill to raise the sexual consent age from 12 to 16.
The country currently allows children as young as 12 to legally have sex with adults so long as they agree.
While the current law criminalizes sex with children under 18, it only does so if there is no consent present or if the act involves threats, force, or intimidation, CNN Philippines reported.
The proposed bill also seeks to expand the definition of rape if the victim is 16 years of age or older and has a disability that renders the victim unable to give consent.
Children’s rights activists have worked for decades to challenge lawmakers to increase the age — which has been part of the country’s penal code since 1930 — but faced resistance from what they say is a patriarchal society where abortion and divorce are illegal.
Activists say the legislation would help protect children in a nation that has become a global mecca for online child sex abuse and where more than 500 teens get pregnant and give birth per day, AFP reported.
“This is a victory for Filipino children,” Patrizia Benvenuti, Unicef’s chief of child protection in the Philippines, said recently as the proposed legislation moved closer to a final vote. “Pegging 12 as the age of consent is really not consistent with scientific studies on brain development.”
The proposed legislation would make it illegal to sleep with someone under the age of 16 and carry a penalty of life in prison, though young couples close in age would not face as harsh of a punishment.
The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate over the next few months before Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signs it into law.