Japan's parliament on Friday enacted laws to criminalize nonconsensual sexual acts even in the absence of physical violence or coercion, and to raise the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16 to protect children from abuse.

The laws, which include amendments to the country's Penal Code, passed the House of Councillors with unanimous consent after being approved by the House of Representatives. "Upskirting" and other forms of capturing sexualized images of people without their consent will also be criminalized.

The revisions are partly intended to better clarify the illegality of nonconsensual sexual offenses such as rape. Rape was renamed "forcible sexual intercourse" when Japan revised its Penal Code in 2017.

Sexual acts conducted in situations where a person may struggle to "form, express or fulfill the intention to resist" will also be subject to potential punishment, the revised laws said.

The House of Councillors passes amendments to Japan's Penal Code during a plenary session in parliament on June 16, 2023. (Kyodo)

Examples cited were situations involving assault, the victim being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or the perpetrator abusing their economic or social power.

The move comes amid concerns over inconsistencies in the verdicts reached by courts and investigative authorities in a series of sexual offense cases, leading to the supporters of victims in such cases to call for legal reform.

The revised laws also criminalize sex with children under the age of 16, raising the legal age of consent from 13, which had remained unchanged for more than a century and was 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 will be made for cases in which an individual aged 13 to 15 has consensual intercourse with a person less than five years older than them.

The statute of limitations for prosecution of nonconsensual intercourse will be extended from 10 to 15 years.

If a victim is below the age of 18, the statute of limitations will not commence until the victim turns 18 -- the legal age of adulthood in Japan.

A supplementary provision was included when the legislation passed through the lower house, stipulating that a further review of the statute of limitations will be considered five years after the laws come into force, apparently to heed calls for a further extension, as it can take time for victims to decide to report sexual crimes.

The new criminalization of upskirting and taking images of people's genitalia, buttocks or breasts without people's consent means perpetrators could face imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 3 million yen ($21,000).

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