Consent of the Child is Immaterial in Criminal Cases Involving Violation of Section 5, Article III of RA 7610.
Petitioner claims that AAA welcomed his kisses and touches and consented to have sexual intercourse with him. They engaged in these acts out of mutual love and affection. But may the “sweetheart theory” be invoked in cases of child prostitution and other sexual abuse prosecuted under Section 5, Article III of RA 7610? No.
The sweetheart theory applies in acts of lasciviousness and rape, felonies committed against or without the consent of the victim. It operates on the theory that the sexual act was consensual. It requires proof that the accused and the victim were lovers and that she consented to the sexual relations.
For purposes of sexual intercourse and lascivious conduct in child abuse cases under RA 7610, the sweetheart defense is unacceptable. A child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other sexual abuse cannot validly give consent to sexual intercourse with another person.
The language of the law is clear: it seeks to punish
[t]hose who commit the act of sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct with a child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other sexual abuse.
Unlike rape, therefore, consent is immaterial in cases involving violation of Section 5, Article III of RA 7610. The mere act of having sexual intercourse or committing lascivious conduct with a child who is exploited in prostitution or subjected to sexual abuse constitutes the offense. It is a malum prohibitum, an evil that is proscribed.
A child cannot give consent to a contract under our civil laws. This is on the rationale that she can easily be the victim of fraud as she is not capable of fully understanding or knowing the nature or import of her actions. The State, as parens patriae, is under the obligation to minimize the risk of harm to those who, because of their minority, are as yet unable to take care of themselves fully. Those of tender years deserve its protection.
The harm which results from a child’s bad decision in a sexual encounter may be infinitely more damaging to her than a bad business deal. Thus, the law should protect her from the harmful consequences of her attempts at adult sexual behavior. For this reason, a child should not be deemed to have validly consented to adult sexual activity and to surrender herself in the act of ultimate physical intimacy under a law which seeks to afford her special protection against abuse, exploitation and discrimination. (Otherwise, sexual predators like petitioner will be justified, or even unwittingly tempted by the law, to view her as fair game and vulnerable prey.) In other words, a child is presumed by law to be incapable of giving rational consent to any lascivious act or sexual intercourse.
This must be so if we are to be true to the constitutionally enshrined State policy to promote the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social well-being of the youth. This is consistent with the declared policy of the State
[T]o provide special protection to children from all forms of abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation and discrimination, and other conditions prejudicial to their development; provide sanctions for their commission and carry out a program for prevention and deterrence of and crisis intervention in situations of child abuse, exploitation, and discrimination. (emphasis supplied)
as well as
to intervene on behalf of the child when the parents, guardian, teacher or person having care or custody of the child fails or is unable to protect the child against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination or when such acts against the child are committed by the said parent, guardian, teacher or person having care and custody of the same. (emphasis supplied)
This is also in harmony with the foremost consideration of the child’s best interests in all actions concerning him or her.
The best interest of children shall be the paramount consideration in all actions concerning them, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities, and legislative bodies, consistent with the principles of First Call for Children as enunciated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every effort shall be exerted to promote the welfare of children and enhance their opportunities for a useful and happy life. (emphasis supplied)