Lawmakers in Japan have approved significant reforms to sex crime legislation, including raising the age of consent from 13 to 16 years old. The unanimous vote in the parliament’s upper house also introduced provisions to clarify rape prosecution requirements and criminalize voyeurism.
Previously, Japan’s age of consent had remained unchanged since 1907, allowing children aged 13 and above to be deemed capable of giving consent. However, in practice, regional ordinances banning “lewd” acts with minors were sometimes interpreted as effectively raising the age of consent to 18 in certain parts of the country.
Under the new law, teenage couples who are no more than five years apart in age will be exempt from prosecution if both partners are over 13 years old.
The revision of Japan’s criminal code on sexual offenses in 2017 was the first in over a century. However, campaigners argued that the reforms were insufficient, and a series of acquittals in rape cases in 2019 sparked nationwide protests.
The previous law required prosecutors to prove that victims were incapacitated due to violence and intimidation, leading critics to argue that it effectively blamed victims for not resisting enough. The newly passed bill provides a list of examples under which rape prosecutions can be pursued, including cases where victims are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, when they are frightened, or when perpetrators exploit their social status.
The bill also introduces a new offense called “visitation request offense,” which targets individuals who use intimidation, seduction, or financial incentives to coerce children under 16 to meet for sexual purposes. Offenders can face a prison sentence of up to one year or a fine of 500,000 yen ($3,500), according to the justice ministry.