There can never be any excuse for a government to turn a blind eye to child pornography. Finally, after years of foreign pressure, Japanese legislators have decided to fall in line with other developed countries and outlaw possession of pictures and videos. But as with the annual whale hunt, carried out in defiance of an international ban, they have ignored accepted global standards. Sexually explicit manga and anime will continue to be allowed to depict young children.
Opposition lawmakers and publishers successfully argued that free speech would be eroded if manga and anime were included in the law, which provides for up to a year in jail and a US$10,000 fine. But free speech can in no circumstances be grounds for the sexual exploitation of children. There is a strong link between viewing child pornography and child sex abuse. A 2007 US government study found that 85 per cent of people convicted of child porn crimes had molested minors.
The crime has a devastating effect on victims. Apart from physical injuries, there can be a host of psychological disorders, from depression to withdrawal to anger. Lives are forever altered from the molestation and the permanent record of the images; once on the internet, they are irretrievable. Japan's failure to ban child pornography had led to children being seen by viewers of porn as sexual objects.
Unsurprisingly, crimes involving child sex abuse have been on the rise. Police found 1,644 cases last year, 10 times more than a decade ago. The lack of laws also meant that Japan, an international child porn hub, was unable to properly help overseas investigators. Making possession illegal provides better protection for children in Japan and around the world.
Japan has taken a necessary step, but it has not gone far enough. Producing and possessing sexually explicit images of children has to be banned. Their use lowers the inhibitions of potential child molesters. Japan has to be a responsible international partner. Just as whale hunting has to end, child pornography has to be outlawed.