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Moves to rein in child pornography meet resistance in Japan

Faced with mounting pressure, Japan’s government has been forced to confront the country’s huge market in child pornography, raising hopes for a ban on possession of the material. But there's plenty of resistance.

By Correspondent / March 3, 2011



Tokyo

Faced with mounting foreign and domestic pressure, Japan’s government has been forced to rethink how to handle the country’s huge market in child pornography, raising hopes for an overdue ban on possession.

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While it is illegal to produce or distribute child pornography in Japan, possessing it is not – an anomaly Japan shares with only one other G8 nation, Russia. The release last month of national police agency figures showing a dramatic rise in the number of known child pornography cases coincides with new calls for the government to take action. Yet, say campaigners, national legislators lack the political will to change the law.

Investigators took action in 1,342 cases in 2010, the police agency said, a rise of 43.5 percent from the previous year. The number of reported child pornography victims, meanwhile, rose to 618, an increase of more than 52 percent from 2009 – a new record since that type of data was first compiled in 2000.

The existing law has effectively encouraged the growth of a lucrative market in sexually explicit images of children, ranging from manga comics to animated movies and, at the most dissolute end of the spectrum, films of children being subjected to rape, torture, and other crimes.

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Avoiding pitfalls

Critics of the current laws have encountered intransigent politicians, many from the legal profession, who believe a catchall law would entrap the innocent and impinge on freedom of expression.

But child advocacy groups say a new law could be sufficiently refined to avoid both such pitfalls. Politicians, they argue, have shown little will to take on the delicate, complex issue in the face of powerful publishers determined to protect their commercial interests.

Only two MPs attended a recent public meeting at the national Diet, or parliament, and left before journalists could question them.

Backpedaling

While the former government, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, drafted legislation in 2008 that would ban possession of child pornography – but which exempted “virtual” pornography in manga and anime form – the current administration of the Democratic Party of Japan has backpedaled since taking office in 2009.

Moves proposed by the DPJ in July 2010 that would enable a government-affiliated body to block child pornography sites beginning in April have been hampered by disagreements over screening criteria and how to deal with potential lawsuits by site operators who believe they have been unfairly targeted.

“The DPJ says it is a party that puts children first, but I doubt that,” says Junko Miyamoto of ECPAT/STOP, which campaigns against child prostitution and trafficking. “How are they demonstrating their commitment to children?

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