Until recently, the minimum age for marriage in Japan was 18 for men and 16 for women (Civil Code Article 731, “marriageable age”). However, with the proposed revision of the Civil Code to lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 starting in April 2022, the age at which women can marry has been raised to 18. While there has been a change of marriageable age very recently , the legal age for consent is 13 in Japan as of this writing and this has not been changed for more than a century. Therefore, it is said that the age for consent should be changed as well if the minimum age for marriage needed to be raised. The legal age of consent in Japan was decided in the days when the minimum age for marriage for girls in Japan was only 15.
Until 2018, the Japanese Civil Code stipulated that the minimum age for marriage was 18 for men and 16 for women. It is said that this was decided based on the idea that “women mature earlier both physically and mentally than men” and on the social background of Japan at the time the law was enacted, such as education and economic strength. However, international organizations have long pointed out that this article is an unequal provision for men and women, and in 2003, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that Japan unify the provisions for men and women.
Both men and women can now marry at age 18 and parental consent is no longer required.
In 2018, the Diet passed a revised Civil Code lowering the age of adulthood from 20 to 18. With this lowering of the age of adulthood, the age of marriage for women was raised from 16 to 18, unifying the age of marriage for men and women at 18. In many developed countries such as the U.S., Australia, France, Sweden and Germany, there is no difference in the age of marriage between men and women, and in many countries the age of marriage is 18 or older.
With this amendment to the law, the requirement of marriage age for men and women became the same in Japan.
Previously, a minor needed parental consent to marry, so for example, an 18-year-old man and a 17-year-old woman needed parental consent to marry. However, due to a change in the law, now a man and a woman over the age of 18 can marry without parental consent since a person over the age of 18 is an adult.
What are the concerns about raising the marriage age for women?
According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare’s Current Population Survey, of the 630,000 women who registered their marriages in 2015, 1,357 were under the age of 18, which is extremely low at approximately 0.002 percent of the total.
The average age of first marriage is 30.7 years for men and 29.1 years for women, and it continues to rise year by year. Therefore, it is said that raising the age of marriage for women will have little impact.
According to the “2016 (2016) Current Population Survey, there were 2007 children born to 16 and 17-year-old mothers, of which 785 were illegitimate children. Under the current law, if they marry with the consent of their guardians, they can obtain custody as adults, but these children will become illegitimate after this revised Civil Code comes into effect. Although small in number, the number of illegitimate children may increase as women who conceive and give birth at the age of 16 or 17 will no longer be able to marry.