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Tuesday, March 31, 2009



Child porn hard to define, stop

Laws limited in huge market where possession, animated sex know no bounds

Staff writer

Japan has a huge adult pornography market. But the country also has a reputation as a haven for child porn, with international human rights groups and governments including the United States all criticizing Tokyo for not doing enough to curb the spread of sexually graphic material that exploits children.

News photo
Hardcore hard drives: Computer equipment confiscated in connection with child-pornography cases across Japan is displayed. KYODO PHOTO

Over the past decade, the government has passed laws and made efforts to crack down on child pornographers. Though welcome, many people in and outside Japan believe such actions are not enough. Some also feel they were merely an effort to placate those who have different values than Japanese regarding sex, rather than through sincere recognition there is a problem.

Just how easy is it to find child pornography in Japan?

As far as availability, photos and videos of minors (anyone under age 20) committing graphic sexual acts can be found in adult video shops nationwide, although children's rights activists say availability is down since a 1999 law on child pornography took effect. Access to such photos and videos is far easier via the Internet, a problem not only human rights groups but UNICEF, the British government and former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer have expressed concern about.

But then there is the basic question of what constitutes child pornography — legally, or by one's own definition. Kiosks and bookstores prominently display "manga" comic books with photos of prepubescent girls in bikinis on the cover, smiling and waving, and, of course, sexually explicit manga and "anime" featuring drawings of schoolgirls are readily available.

Is that child pornography? Legally, no. Yet the answer becomes more controversial among people whose personal morals differ from the legal definition or from those who don't see what the fuss is about.

What laws currently restrict or ban the most explicit child pornography?

The Diet passed legislation in 1999 targeting child prostitution, child pornography and sexual abuse of children. Legally, children were defined as those under 18 years old.

"Child pornography" was defined as photos, videotapes or other visual materials that depict in a clearly recognizable way children engaged in acts of sexual intercourse or other indecent sexual acts involving children, as well as visual depictions of children touching genitals or of them fully or partially naked and posing in a way to stimulate sexual desire.

What about those who engage in the business of child pornography?

The 1999 law forbade the distribution, sale, public rental or public display of child pornography. Violators could be imprisoned for up to three years or fined up to ¥3 million. It also became illegal to import such pornography or export it, whether the parties involved are Japanese or non-Japanese.

What about the simple possession of child pornography, say, downloaded from the Internet?

International and Japanese human rights activists, as well as the United Nations and the United States, have repeatedly said this loophole remains the fundamental flaw in Japan's efforts to go after child pornographers.

Production and distribution of child pornography is illegal, but simple possession is not (and that term can be very difficult to define, legally). A U.S. State Department human rights report released in February notes that the absence of a statutory basis makes it difficult for police to obtain search warrants.

Are there plans to outlaw the simple possession of child pornography?

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition submitted a bill to ban the possession of child pornography that threatens up to one year in prison and a fine of ¥1 million.

The Democratic Party of Japan has also introduced a bill on the matter.

However, the bills must be deliberated in the Diet, and while there is growing agreement within the ruling parties about the need to ban simple possession, there are also concerns that the wrong kind of ban would negatively affect freedom of expression related to the Internet.

But the more contentious problem for politicians is likely to be reaching an agreement on what, exactly, constitutes child pornography.

What about graphic anime and manga, or "virtual" child pornography?

This is where the controversy is most intense. Last June, about three months after international media coverage of Japan's announcement that it would introduce legislation to crack down on possession of child pornography, it was learned that the government would not include in the bill cartoon or animation images. Instead, it will study the issue until 2011.

Have current laws been effective?

In 2008, police arrested 412 people regarding 676 alleged violations of child pornography laws, as opposed to 377 people in 567 incidents in 2007. These were the highest figures since police started keeping records in 2000, after the 1999 laws went into effect.

Police and prosecutors note these figures represent only those charged with violating specific child pornography laws and do not include child abuse or other laws to protect children under which suspected child pornographers are often charged.

Children's rights activists insist that the number of people producing or possessing child pornography is much higher due to the lack of a specific law banning simple possession, as well as social factors such as the fact that many victimized children or their parents are reluctant to notify authorities.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk

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