The Japanese government plans to criminalize sex with children under age 16 by raising the legal age of consent from 13, part of the country's Penal Code reforms, which critics say are long overdue and urgently needed to protect vulnerable minors from sexual offenses.

The recommendations the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council submitted to Justice Minister Ken Saito on Friday include making the secret filming of someone's genitals or underwear and sharing such images an offense punishable under the Penal Code.

Makoto Ida (R), chairman of the Legislative Council, submits proposed revisions to the Penal Code to Justice Minister Ken Saito in Tokyo on Feb. 17, 2023. (Kyodo)

Japan's current age of consent, which has remained unchanged since its enactment in 1907, is one of the lowest among developed nations. There have been calls to raise it to better reflect reality as sexual exploitation of minors has increasingly come into focus.

The age of consent is at least 16 in the United States, 16 in Britain, and 14 in Italy and China.

The government aims to submit an amendment to the Penal Code during the current parliamentary session.

While the proposed changes will make sexual intercourse with a person under 16 illegal, regardless of consent, an exception is provided for intercourse between youngsters at least 13 years old with an age difference of less than five years.

To address difficulties in proving sexual assault in situations where the victim cannot resist, the revisions will also clarify eight acts that constitute a lack of consent, including intoxication, drugging, abuse of power and psychological control.

The statute of limitations for prosecution will also be extended to 15 years from 10 years for forcible sexual intercourse or rape and to 20 years from 15 years for indecent assault resulting in injury.

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