The age limit for consent in Japan was increased from 13, one of the world’s lowest, to 16 in the last session of parliament on Friday, as legislators approved important reforms to the sex crime law.
These reforms, which clear the requirements of prosecution for rape and make voyeurism criminal, were approved by the parliament’s upper house with a majority decision.
People who support the reforms have praised them, and the group based in Tokyo, Human Rights Now calls them “a big step forward”.
The consent age in other developed countries lies around this range. China & has it set at 14 years old, Britain’s age of consent is 15, and France has it at 15.
The Japanese system was unchanged from 1907, when children 13 or over were deemed competent to consent.
But in the real world, in different regions nationwide, local ordinances prohibiting “lewd” acts with minors could be seen as raising the consenting age to 18.
In the new law, teenagers with five years gap are not subject to criminal prosecution when both have crossed the age of 13.
Japan recently revised its criminal codes on sexual crimes in 2017 for only the second time in over 100 years. However, advocates said the changes did not go far enough.
Japan recently revised its criminal codes on sexual crimes in 2017 for only the second time in over 100 years. However, the advocates complained that they were not sufficient enough.
Then in 2019, a series of acquittals for rape cases led to nationwide protests.
In the past, the prosecution had to show victims suffered incapacitation due to threats and violence. Some critics argued that the requirement made victims feel guilty for refusing to resist enough.
The law passed last Friday provides scenarios under which prosecutions for rape could be brought. This includes victims impaired by alcohol or other drugs, becoming scared and perpetrators who take advantage of their social standing.
An official from the justice ministry said to AFP earlier in the year that these clarifications weren’t “meant to make it easier or harder” to get convictions for rape. However, the clarifications “will hopefully make court verdicts more consistent”.
The law states that anyone who resorts to the power of seduction, intimidation or even money to force children who are under the age of 16 to make a sexual connection for motives will receive a prison sentence that could last up to a year or a fine of 500 000 yen($3,500).
The changes also contain an amendment that, at first, criminalizes the practice of voyeurism which had been covered through regional ordinances before.
The penalty can be as high as three years’ jail, or a 3 million yen or more fine can be handed down for filming body parts of private individuals, such as underwear or sexually explicit behaviours, without any justification.
Tokyo resident Sohei Ikeda, who is 39, acknowledged the change but added that he thought “Japan is quite late”.
However, Natsuki Sunaga, 22, a student, told the newspaper that she was sceptical about whether the changes could stop secretly filming other people.
“I wonder, even with a law against voyeurism, whether it will end,” she declared.
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