Japan has finally made the possession of child pornography a punishable offence.

After years of pressure, Japan bans possession of child porn.

The country’s upper house of parliament passed a bill Wednesday, which will see people found with explicit images of children jailed for up to year or fined up to $10,000.

In an act of national conscience, Japan’s Parliament today voted overwhelmingly to criminalise the possession of images of child sexual abuse — depictions of a crime often referred to as “child pornography.”

As AVN has reported, “The new law [outlaws] the possession of photographs and videos depicting the sexual abuse of real children, but not the possession of either manga or anime content, which often contain sexualised images of underage-looking characters.”

According to the New York Times, “By an overwhelming margin, lawmakers from the governing and opposition parties joined to pass a bill that will strengthen a 1999 law that had banned the production and distribution of child pornography, but not its possession. The new law, which is expected to go into effect next month, will give violators a one-year grace period to get rid of pornographic images before they will be prosecuted.”

Japanese Manga cover
  • Twitter
  • Google +
  • Tumblr
Though Japan’s unique culture has proven to be an impediment over the years to strengthening laws against so-called child pornography, the fact that it was the last industrial nation to make possession illegal irked conservative politicians in the country, and as the Times reports, “Social pressure had also built up, as the Japanese police blamed the continuing legality of child pornography for a surge in criminal cases involving its production and circulation.

Across Japan, the number of such criminal cases has jumped tenfold since 2000, to 1,644 cases last year, according to the National Police Agency.”

As in every other country, the rise of the internet during that same period probably has as much as anything else to do with the surge in criminal cases, but the same technological advances undoubtedly made it more difficult for the nation to continue averting its eyes to a very serious omission in its laws.

But much is also being made of the fact that the new law does not apply to manga and anime cartoons and digital images, which traditionally enjoy tremendous popularity in the island nation.

“It is not uncommon to find popular comics in Japan that depict naked or nearly naked prepubescent girls, sometimes engaged in explicit sex acts, for sale in neighborhood convenience stores,” noted the Times, adding,Japanese leaders defended the exemption of manga from the new law, saying that it does not exploit real children because its depictions are imaginary. They also said they wanted to avoid curtailing artistic expression.”

Those explanations did not sit well with CNN, which led its coverage of the new law today with the headline, “Sexually explicit Japan manga evades new laws on child pornography.”

“While no link has been made between anime, manga and child abuse,” CNN states in the article, “Japan is facing a ‘serious’ child abuse problem, according to a White Paper issued by the <a href="http://www.npa.go.jp/hakusyo/h25/english/WHITE_PAPER_2.pdf" target="_blank">National Police Agency in March</a>.”

It should be noted, however, that while Japan may indeed have a questionable history as far as its acceptance of depictions of underage sex, United States law also does not criminalise the creation, possession or dissemination of images of underage sex that do not use actual humans.

As explained by the U.S. Department of Justice on the government website, “Images of child pornography are not protected under First Amendment rights, and are illegal contraband under federal law. Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age).

Child abuse in Japan

Statistics show that child pornography remains a big problem in Japan. The U.S. State Department’s 2013 report on human rights practices in Japan labels the country “an international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography.”

It cited Japanese police data showing the number of child pornography investigations in 2012 rose 9.7% from a year earlier to a record of 1,596. The cases involved 1,264 child victims, almost twice as many as in the previous year.

Under the new law, people in possession of child pornography have one year to dispose of it before they risk prosecution.

<a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/18/world/asia/japan-manga-anime-pornography/index.html" target="_blank">Sexually explicit Japan manga evades new laws on child pornography</a>

Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor, and images created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict an identifiable, actual minor. Undeveloped film, undeveloped videotape, and electronically stored data that can be converted into a visual image of child pornography are also deemed illegal visual depictions under federal law.”

The U.S, has, of course, attempted to criminalize such “virtual child pornography,” most notably in the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, but the two provisions in that law that moved the scope of what is not protected by the Constitution into content not involving depictions of “actual” or “identifiable” children were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2002 in Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition,” which found that the CPPA included categories of speech other than obscenity and child pornography, and thus were deemed to be overbroad.

In that sense, and despite CNN decrying the fact that “manga permeates Japanese culture,” the rationale used by the Japanese is almost identical to that expressed by the majority in Ashcroft, which carefully tried to balance free speech protections with the sexual abuse of children, which it called “a most serious crime and an act repugnant to the moral instincts of a decent people.” In order to prevent such abuse, the Justices continued, “Congress may pass valid laws to protect children from abuse, and it has.”

Similarly, a government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said of the decision not to include manga and anime in the new prohibition, “While there are concerns that such illustrations might encourage the viewing of children as sexual objects, freedom of expression is also an important issue.”