Police in Japan have adopted a new tactic in the apparently unending struggle against the under-age sex industry, introducing sting operations against minors offering sexual services.
According to the National Police Agency, officers are now patrolling online chat rooms, matchmaking sites and smartphone applications. Officers strike up a conversation and arrange a meeting. Once they have met and the transaction is confirmed, the undercover officer reveals his true identity.
In the first six months of this year, officers using these tactics took into custody 220 girls under the age of 18.
Instead of arresting first-time offenders, however, the police are providing "cyber correctional guidance", which warns them of the crimes they are committing and the potential dangers.
After a dose of moral re-education, the girls are then taken home and their parents informed that they have been cautioned for sex-related crimes.
The NPA instructed forces around the country to introduce cyber correctional guidance in October last year.
The phenomenon of enjo kosai - which literally means compensated dating but is a euphemism for everything from a customer paying to hold hands with a young girl to full sex - first emerged in Japan in the 1990s.
Concerned at the number of men eager to pay for the company of a teenage girl, as well as the appetite of minors for brand-name goods and accessories and, consequently, the funds to buy them, Japanese authorities passed strict new laws.
The Act on Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and for Protecting Children was enacted in May 1999 and updated five years later.
In June, police in Osaka arrested the operator of a prostitution business that employed 17 teenage girls, nine of whom were aged 16 or younger, who used matchmaking sites to solicit customers, the Nikkan Gendai newspaper said.
The youngest girl taken into custody was aged 14 and provided sexual services to around 300 men between September of last year and February. Of the 9 million yen (HK$672,000) she earned, the girl kept 7.2 million yen to spend on eating with her friends and shopping.