In the Philippines, sex with a 12yo is considered legal if it’s consensual. But new laws are set to change that

Rosario Baluyot took seven months to die.

The internal injuries she received from an alleged rape caused a severe infection in her cervix that eventually led to her death in a Philippines hospital.

Her gravestone at Olongapo, north-west of Manila, states that Rosario was just 11 years old when she died in 1987.

But the lack of a birth certificate — or any proof of her age — was one factor that led the court to acquit the man originally charged and convicted of rape with homicide in a country where the age of consent for sex is 12.

Her case has since become the subject of a documentary novel, titled Rosario is Dead, and helped to pave the way for significant legal reforms in the Philippines, including legislation in 1992 to give stronger protection to children from sexual abuse or exploitation.

But those reforms did not include raising the age of consent, which has remained at 12 since it was enshrined in a penal code that was first enacted in the Philippines in 1930.

That could be set to change now, as draft legislation proposes raising the age of consent to 16.

Currently, onus on prosecution to prove child was under 12

Heinrich Stefan Ritter, an Austrian doctor, was initially convicted of Rosario’s ‘rape with homicide’. He was ordered to pay ‘moral and exemplary damages’ to her family, and immediately deported and banned from returning.

Once the new law is passed in the Philippines, targeting children and young adolescents will be statutory rape.(Reuters: Eloisa Lopez)

In his appeal, the defence counsel for Dr Ritter argued that Rosario was 13 — above the age of consent — and that as a child-prostitute who lived on the street, she had willingly submitted to his sexual advances in exchange for money.

In most countries, sexual relations with a 13-year old would automatically amount to statutory rape.

But not in the Philippines, where an adult can legally have sexual relations with a child as young as 12 and argue that it was consensual.

It is the lowest age of consent in Asia, and the second-lowest in the world after Nigeria where it’s 11 — though some African or Middle Eastern countries have no age of consent, but ban sex outside of marriage.

In the case of Rosario, the Philippines Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the onus fell on the prosecution to prove that she was under 12 at the time of the alleged rape.

And they found that ultimately it had failed to do so.

He was acquitted of rape and freed.

Raising the age of consent from 12 to 16

But now, 33 years after Rosario’s death, Philippine politicians are finally preparing to pass new legislation to raise the age of consent from 12 to 16.

“This law reform is particularly urgent because the Philippines has such a high prevalence of violence against children,” chief of child protection at the UN children’s agency UNICEF Patrizia Benvenuti said.

“UNICEF and the child rights community have lobbied and campaigned actively for many years on this issue.”

A girl in a school uniform standing in a doorway with books
The Philippines currently has the lowest age of consent in Asia, and second lowest in the world after Nigeria.(AP: Aaron Favila)

The proposed legislation — which is almost certain to pass after it goes before a bicameral sitting of Congress in November — will ensure any adult who has sexual relations with a child under 16 would automatically be guilty of rape.

They can no longer argue the child was a willing partner.

The legislation will also remove marriage as an exemption for those perpetrators who later marry their victims.

And it will include a ‘sweetheart clause’ that removes criminal liability for those who have sex with an underage child if their age difference is between two and four years.

Bernadette Madrid, director of the Philippines’ Child Protection Unit, said the new law will inevitably help to lower the incidence of sexual abuse against children.

“They’ve done studies on the age of statutory rape and found that per age that you increase, you decrease the number of sexual abuse,” she said.

“So there’s a relationship between the higher age and the greater decrease in rape.”

Many rape victims are boys

The statistics on child rape and sexual abuse in the Philippines are staggering.

On average, a woman or child is raped almost every hour, according to the Centre for Women’s Resources. Around seven in 10 victims are children.

A national study on violence against children in 2015 revealed that most child rapes occur in the home and that the most common perpetrators are family members — including the father, brother and cousins.

“Economic status has something to do with it,” Nenita Dalde from the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation said.

Many, if not most, rape victims are boys. The national study found one in five children, aged 13 to 17, had experienced sexual violence.

But the figures were higher for boys at 24.5 per cent than girls at 18.2 per cent.

A little boy peers through a whole in the fence
Philippine legislators are preparing to pass new legislation to raise the age of consent from 12 to 16.(Reuters: Damir Sagolj)

Until now, children’s rights groups say perpetrators of sexual assault against boys are given much lesser sentences than those found guilty of raping girls.

It is hoped the proposed laws will address this issue by giving equal protection to boys under the law.

Perpetrators could now face a maximum 40 years in jail if guilty

The alarming incidence of child rape is also cited as one reason why the Philippines has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in South-East Asia.

In 2017, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that 538 babies were born to teenage mothers every day.

Of those pregnancies, Ms Dalde said many can be attributed to rape or sexual abuse, and most babies were fathered by much older men.

“Evidence points to adult males who prey on younger children, not just girls but boys,” she said.

Importantly, she says raising the age of consent will remove the horrific onus on many child rape victims to testify in court that they did not consent to the sexual exchange.

And those under 12 years old will also no longer be required to testify that they were under the age of consent.

Instead, perpetrators who have sex with a child under 16 will automatically face accusations of rape and could face a maximum sentence of 40 years in jail if found guilty.

The move has been welcomed by children’s rights organisations, who say the new laws, once enacted, will bring the Philippines into line with international standards.

“A 12-year-old is only in sixth grade and has barely gone through puberty,” Ms Benvenuti said.

“There is ample evidence to prove that the rational part of a person’s brain — the part that responds to situations with sound judgement — will not fully develop until age 25.

“So pegging 12 as the age of consent to sex is not consistent with any scientific studies of child and brain development.”

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Wilfred Zaha passionate plea to social media platforms after ‘racist’ 12yo arrest

Ivory Coast football star Wilfred Zaha has made a passionate call for social media platforms to change their policies in the hope of reducing online racism.

A 12-year-old boy was arrested after sending the Premier League goalscorer sickening racist messages earlier this week.

On Sunday, the Crystal Palace winger posted screenshots of messages which threatened him and called him a “black c***”.

Zaha received two messages ahead of Palace’s game with Aston Villa, with one reading: “You better not score tomorrow you black c***.”

The other read: “Or I’ll come to your house dressed as a ghost.”

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A disgusting image of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist hate group based in the US, was also sent to the footballer.

Zaha captioned the screenshots: “Woke up to this today.”

On Tuesday, Zaha posted a heartfelt video to his Instagram, begging popular social media sites to moderate their users to rid them of “stupid, racist cowards”.

“I get stupid racist messages every day of my life,” Zaha said.

“But the other day I thought, ‘I’m going to out this person’, it happened to be a 12-year-old. How can you have such hatred at 12 and send those type of things?

“It doesn’t make a difference to me how old he is. Anyway, social platforms like Instagram, Twitter, to make a change for people to not be able to do this stuff and be held accountable for the stuff they send, everyone should put their details in, their proper details, where you live, everything to be able to come on an account so we don’t get these messages, look at these messages I’m still getting.

“All kind and supportive stuff people have been saying but I want action, I want change.

“Instagram, Twitter, unless people give their proper full details, they should not be allowed to make an account, because that’s all cowards do.

“These stupid racist cowards, that’s all they do, hide behind accounts. And it is going to carry on, we can put it everywhere, we can put it on the news, wherever but it’s going to carry on.

“So yeah until these things are changed, I don’t want to hear nothing sorry.”

West Midlands Police confirmed after the game – which Aston Villa won 2-0 – that a boy from Solihull had been arrested in relation to the incident.

A statement published on Twitter said: “We were alerted to a series of racist messages sent to a footballer today and after looking into them and conducting checks, we have arrested a boy.

“The 12-year-old from #Solihull has been taken to custody. Thanks to everyone who raised it. Racism won’t be tolerated.”

Aston Villa was quick to condemn the vile messages, and vowed to ban the culprit for life.

An Aston Villa statement read: “We deplore the disgusting racist messages sent to Zaha. We condemn all forms of racial discrimination and stand with Crystal Palace.

“We are working with the police in investigating this extremely serious matter and when the culprit is identified AVFC will issue a lifetime ban.”

Crystal Palace also released a statement: “This is an absolute disgrace and should not be happening.

“We stand with you, Wilf, and anyone else who has to suffer such horrific abuse.”

Eagles boss Roy Hodgson spoke on the matter ahead of kick-off at Villa Park, praising Zaha for making the abuse public.

“It has been highlighted at the moment anyway with the Black Lives Matter movement and everyone seems to be making such an effort to eradicate this type of behaviour,” Hodgson said.

“It’s very sad that on the day of a game a player should wake up to this cowardly and despicable abuse.

“I think it is right that Wilf has made people aware of it, I don’t think this is something that you should keep quiet about.”

Zaha thanked West Midlands Police for their swift response on social media.

“Very disappointed we didn’t get a better result yesterday but I wanted to come on here to thank you all for all your messages of support,” Zaha wrote.

“I would also like to thank West Midlands Police for their swift action in making an arrest.

“People need to understand that whatever your age, that your behaviour and your words come with consequences and you cannot hide behind social media.

“It is important social media platforms do as they did yesterday and seek out these individuals and remove them.

“This is not the first time I have received messages like this, nor am I the only player to receive messages like this – it happens every day.

“I want to thank everyone for the love and support but enough is enough! It is not enough to be disgusted by these messages I received and move on.

“It isn’t enough to just say #notoracism. We need action, we need education, things need to change.”

— With The Sun

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Probe launched into Broome chopper crash that killed Troy Thomas, 12yo girl

The head of Australia’s transport safety watchdog says the helicopter involved in Saturday’s fatal crash in Broome appeared to enter a spin shortly after take-off.

The Robinson R-44 helicopter crashed in Broome’s northern suburbs on Saturday afternoon, killing 40-year-old pilot Troy Thomas and a 12-year-old girl.

Mr Thomas’ 12-year-old daughter, Mia, remains in a serious but stable condition at Perth Children’s Hospital, while a 24-year-old female passenger remains in a critical condition at Royal Perth Hospital.

Two investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) arrived in Broome this afternoon, with another two due to arrive tomorrow.

ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said this afternoon that the investigation into the tragic incident would proceed carefully.

“Air traffic control provided clearance for the aircraft to become airborne about three nautical miles north of Broome airport,” he said.

“[Control] observed the aircraft to climb above the treetops, when the aircraft appeared to enter a spin and impact terrain in the industrial area just north of Broome.”

Kimberley pilot and tourism figure Troy Thomas was killed in Saturday’s helicopter crash.(Supplied: Facebook)

The aircraft crashed on Antheous Way in Bilingurr, close to the headquarters of Horizontal Falls Seaplane Adventures, which Mr Thomas founded in 2006.

The street remains cordoned off as both police and ATSB staff examine the wreckage.

“We’ll be looking at company records, records relating to the pilot and records relating to maintenance,” Mr Hood said.

Mr Hood said people could submit CCTV or contact the investigation via the Bureau’s website.

Friends and family shattered

Tributes have continued to pour in for Mr Thomas, with his loss felt right across the Broome community.

This morning Adam Barnard and Gianna Cortese said Mr Thomas’ efforts had put Horizontal Falls on the Australian and global tourism map.

Mr Barnard praised Mr Thomas’ loyalty and support for his friends.

“I couldn’t come anywhere close to what he’s achieved and what he’s done,” Mr Barnard said.

Image of a man in a dark blue shirt with white lettering standing at the side of a residential street in Broome.
Adam Barnard, a friend of Troy Thomas, says his friend’s skill and passion for the region left him in awe.(ABC Kimberley: Hannah Barry)

Ms Cortese said his skill as a pilot opened up amazing parts of the Kimberley to his family, friends and visitors alike.

“I’d turn up on this tiny little boat,” she said.

“He’d land on that tiny little boat in the middle of nowhere.

“Then he’d go over and take us to this little cliff face and land on this tiny little rock.

A large party planned for Mr Thomas’ 40th birthday, which was to be held on a property near Mandurah, had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Mr Barnard said the rescheduled party, which was held on Rowley Shoals of the coast of Broome with a close group of Mr Thomas’ friends and family, would remain a cherished memory.

“We sang him happy birthday and he got his cake,” he said.

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