Japan's Justice Ministry said Friday it plans to rename a sexual offense charge to make clearer the illegality of nonconsensual intercourse as part of the country's Penal Code reforms.

The Cabinet is expected to approve the change, initially demanded by sexual victim support bodies, in mid-March for the enactment in the current session of parliament.

Photo taken Feb. 24, 2023, shows the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's meeting on judicial affairs held at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

The plan is part of the amendments to the Penal Code that the government is currently working on, which also include raising the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16.

The ministry presented the plan to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's committee on judicial affairs the same day, amid victim support groups' calls for the renaming to send a clear message to the public that sex without consent should be strictly punished.

Japan's laws against sexual violence have lagged behind some other countries, with Spain and Sweden among those that have implemented in recent years "only yes means yes" consent laws in which intercourse without explicit consent is treated as rape.

Japan revised its Penal Code in 2017, renaming the crime of "rape" to "forcible sexual intercourse" in the first revision since the Meiji era more than a century ago.

The name will change from forcible sexual intercourse to the equivalent of nonconsensual sexual intercourse.

The 2017 amendments imposed longer prison sentences on rapists and covered male victims, in addition to the name change, but still required violence or coercion for a sexual violation to be officially defined as rape.

The latest revisions will change the requirements to "making it difficult for the victim to form, express or fulfill the intention not to consent" and lists eight examples that would fall under the umbrella, such as drinking alcohol or taking drugs as well as abusing one's position of economic or social power.

The proposed updates also include criminalizing sex with children under the age of 16 by raising Japan's current legal age of consent from 13.

Japan's current age of consent, which has remained unchanged since its enactment in 1907, is one of the lowest among developed nations.

While the 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.

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

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