Japan Raises Age of Consent, Redefines Rape, and Criminalizes Voyeurism

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Japan’s Parliament raises age of consent from 13 to 16, overhauls sex crime laws, and clarifies rape prosecutions.

The reform to raise the age of consent in Japan was welcomed by human rights organizations. (Photo: AFP)

Japan’s Parliament unanimously passed a historic reform on Friday, raising the age of consent from 13, previously one of the lowest in the world, to 16.

This significant change in sex crime laws also includes clarifying the grounds for rape prosecutions and criminalizing voyeurism. The reform has been hailed by human rights groups as a major leap forward.

The varying age of consent in different countries was highlighted, with India setting it at 18, Britain at 16, and Germany and China at 14.

Human rights organizations expressed their belief that this reform sends a strong message to society that sexual violence against minors by adults is unacceptable.

Notably, the new law exempts juvenile couples with an age gap of up to five years, provided both partners are above 13 years old, from prosecution.

Japan’s recent reform, passed by the parliament, marks the first significant change in the age of consent in over a century since it was last amended in 1907.

However, many regional centers had already enforced laws banning “obscene acts” with minors, effectively raising the age of consent to 18.

In 2017, Japan underwent its first criminal code reform on sexual offenses in over a century, but human rights groups criticized the reforms as inadequate. The country witnessed widespread protests in 2019 against the high rate of acquittals in cases involving sexual offenses against minors.

Under the old law, prosecutors were required to prove that victims were incapacitated due to violence and intimidation, leading critics to argue that victims were being blamed for not resisting enough.

The aim of the clarifications made in the new law, according to a law ministry official, is not to make rape convictions easier or harder, but to ensure more consistent court verdicts.

The bill passed by the Japanese Parliament on Friday includes a list of examples under which rape prosecutions can be pursued, such as cases where victims were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, experienced fear, or where perpetrators exploited their social status.

Additionally, the newly passed bill also addresses “visitation request offenses,” as stated by law ministry officials.

Under the newly passed law, individuals who use seduction, intimidation, or money to exploit children under the age of 16 for sexual purposes will now face penalties, including a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine of nearly Rs 3 lakh.

These reforms also introduce sections that, for the first time, criminalize privacy infringements, which were previously regulated by regional laws.

If someone is found guilty of secretly filming private body parts, innerwear, or engaging in indecent acts without a justifiable reason, they may face penalties of up to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to Rs 18 lakh.

When questioned by the media about the newly passed law, Japanese citizens expressed their welcome to the changes but also conveyed their disappointment with the delay in formulating such legislation.

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Toshika Chauhan

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