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The Legal Status of Juveniles

According to the Japanese Penal Code (article 41), 14 years is the minimum age for which one can be criminally responsible (Takahashi 2010a, b). This does not necessarily mean that those under 14 years of age do not have enough capacity to appreciate the nature and quality of (or wrongfulness of) their acts. Rather, 14 years of age is considered the minimum age at which a decision concerning the purpose of a criminal activity can be made according to criminal justice policy. Pursuant to this, no criminal responsibility can be attributed to those under the age of 14 years. Cases involving those aged 14-19 years are considered juvenile offenders. Prior to 2000, as a general rule, the Family Court refers cases to the public prosecutor when a juvenile over 16 years old has caused death by an act committed with criminal intent at the time of the offense. The revised Juvenile Law in 2000 lowered the minimum age of suspects for reverse referral from 16 to 14 years of age. In cases in which a person under 18 years old commits an offense, those crimes which could carry the death penalty or life imprisonment will be punished via lesser sentences (i.e., mitigated).

According to the Juvenile Law (article 2), persons younger than 20 years of age are legally considered juveniles; these juvenile cases go to Family Court (Article 41-42) (Nakayama 2011). The court subsequently determines the need to subject the juveniles in question to protective measures. The Juvenile Law states that juvenile cases should be, in principle, separated from adult cases in order to benefit the future development of juvenile offenders. Although there are exceptions, juveniles are criminally prosecuted when the case involves a certain punishment in response to a very serious offense.

Age of Majority (seems a little off track talking about voting rights, sexual/ marriage rights)

Article 3 of Japanese Civil Law states that the age of majority is 20 years old. Other articles provide some reference points for what might be considered the age of majority by the law. Articles 731 and 737 of Civil Law state that the age of consent for marriage is eighteen (18) years for men and sixteen (16) years for women. Article 177 of the Penal Code places the age of consent for sexual activity at thirteen (13) years. Article 4 of the Child Welfare Act defines “child” as “anyone below eighteen (18) years of age.” Measures for promoting child welfare have been implemented in accordance with the fundamental policy of the Act. Recent movements have advocated for lowering the ages for adulthood and for voting in Japan (Sato et al. 2008). On June 17, 2015, Japanese parliament passed a bill to lower the voting age from 20 to 18 years—the biggest reform of the nation’s electoral laws in 70 years. The legislation will come into effect in time for next year’s upper house election. The passage of the bill follows a law passed last year lowering the voting age to 18 years in 2018 for national referendums on the Constitution. In terms of passing a bill to lower the voting age from 20 to 18 years, the juvenile’s age of the Juvenile Law has been recently considered again (Edit Committee for Children & Laws 2015). In Japan, the legal age for drinking alcohol and smoking is 20 years and the minimum driving age is 18 years.

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