MANILA (Reuters) — A bill to raise the minimum age of sexual consent in the Philippines from 12 to 16 has moved closer toward becoming law, after senators approved it its final reading.

The bill aims to protect children from rape and other forms of sexual abuse and was backed by 22 senators on Monday, with one abstention. A counterpart measure was approved by the lower chamber in December last year.

A bicameral committee must now consolidate the two drafts and pass it to the president for approval.

The Philippines currently has the lowest minimum age of sexual consent in Southeast Asia, and one of the lowest in the world.

Seven of 10 victims of rape in the Philippines are children, data from the Center for Women's Resources show.

Under the bill, any adult, both men and women, engaging in sexual contact with anyone 16 years old or lower would be committing statutory rape. For more than a century, the minimum age has been 12.

"Today, the Senate has finally and clearly said no to child rape. Today, the Senate has sounded the clarion call for change," opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a principal author of the bill, said in a statement.

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