Japan has the lowest age of consent among the Group of Seven (G7) nations, something that has remained unchanged since its enactment in 1907. The age of consent in Germany and China is set at 14, while it is 15 in France and 16 in South Korea and the UK.
A justice ministry panel on Friday submitted the proposal to increase the age of consent. It is expected to be enacted during the ongoing session of parliament which ends in late June.
The proposed changes will deem sexual intercourse with any person under the age of 16 statutory rape, regardless of consent. It also aims to expand the definition of rape to include acts of drugging and intoxication and criminalise the grooming of minors.
The statute of limitations for reporting rape and indecent assault resulting in injury will be raised by five years.
The proposal has sought to criminalise secretly photographing and filming someone’s genitals or underwear and sharing them.
The present age of consent in Japan forces teen survivors of sexual assault to undergo the same length of prosecuting the perpetrators as adults do. Rape survivors need to prove that violence and intimidation during the crime was “impossible to resist”.
The panel, however, did not change the wording, but added other factors such as drugging, catching victims off guard and psychologically controlling them.
Justice ministry official Yusuke Asanuma said the modifications weren’t “meant to make it easier or harder” to secure rape convictions, but something that “will hopefully make court verdicts more consistent”.
Regional ordinances in parts of the country ban “lewd” acts with minors, which includes sex with those under 18. A 62-year-old man was arrested earlier this month for allegedly paying a 15-year-old to “commit lewd acts with him”.
Such crimes hold lesser penalty than rape charges and deem sex with children merely “unethical” conduct, “completely discounting its forced nature”, said Kazuna Kanajiri, an activist fighting pornography and sexual exploitation.
This leaves room for perpetrators to “shift blame to the victims, and argue that sex was initiated or enjoyed by the children”, the activist told AFP.
Calls for change in the legal system were renewed in 2019 following a string of acquittals in rape cases, including one case of a father sexually assaulting his teenage daughter.
The father was acquitted by a branch of the Nagoya district court that said there was no definitive proof that the 19-year-old girl had been unable to resist. The judgment was later overturned by a higher court and the man was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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