The Japanese government on Tuesday approved a bill to lower the adulthood age from 20 to 18, a move that would enable 18- and 19-year-olds to sign contracts and get married without the consent of their parents.

The planned amendment, which the government aims to bring into force in April 2022, would change the definition of an adult under the Civil Code for the first time since it was enacted in the late 19th century, affecting wide areas including the acquisition of licenses.

But people aged 19 or below will remain prohibited from drinking, smoking and gambling.

Currently, people under 20 in Japan can only get married with parental consent, from the age of 18 in the case of men and 16 for women. The revision would lift the legal age of marriage for women to 18 so that both men and women aged 18 and older can get married without parental consent.

The government decided to unify the legal age of marriage for men and women as there was no rational reason for the difference and as the number of women getting married at 16 or 17 has dropped.

As 18- and 19-year-olds would also become able to sign contracts on their own, the government separately submitted to the Diet earlier this month a bill to revise a law on consumer contracts to bolster measures against malicious business practices targeting youth.

To protect young consumers who are more vulnerable to fraud, the bill added clauses allowing cancellations of contracts concluded in "a state of confusion" when salespeople aroused anxiety or exploited romantic feelings in customers.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a press conference, "(The legal change) holds great significance as it is part of a policy to promote active social participation of young people and raise their awareness" as adults.

Along with the lowering of the adulthood age, the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council is discussing whether to lower the age at which the juvenile law is applied to 17 or below from the current 19 or below. The law stipulates different treatment of underage criminals or delinquents compared with adults.

The government will aim to revise the juvenile law once it receives the council's report.