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Bill to enhance support for vulnerable women passed in Japan

The National Diet building is seen in this file photo taken in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 28, 2017. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's parliament approved Thursday a bill for a law to strengthen support for vulnerable women, such as those dealing with poverty, and domestic and sexual violence.

    The new law, to go into effect in April 2024, is meant to encourage the state and municipalities to better address these issues by helping women get back on their feet, coordinating with women's support groups to come up with specific measures.

    In recent years, the problems that women face such as poverty, sexual exploitation and suicide have become more complex, and support groups have said the current law does not take into account such situations and relief needs.

    At present, the system of support for women is based on the country's anti-prostitution law enacted in 1956 which is aimed at protecting those who feel their only way out is through prostitution.

    The new law is meant to take into account female victims of sexual or domestic violence who may not have a place to live or are in debt, and help them toward leading independent lives.

    The coronavirus pandemic has made the dire situation faced by women more acute and visible.

    For example, the number of domestic violence victims has increased as more people stay at home or have lost their jobs, meaning they have less opportunity to escape their abusers.

    Under the bipartisan bill, the national government is charged with creating a basic policy to women's welfare and their human rights.

    It requires prefectures to formulate basic plans to help those in need, and cities to devise specific measures.

    Local governments are to coordinate with related organizations and nongovernmental women's groups to implement support measures, for example by helping secure employment and housing for the women.

    Provisions in the anti-prostitution law for counseling and shelters will be revised and incorporated into the new law.

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