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article imageJapan to act on child porn possession

By Miwa Suzuki (AFP)     Jun 4, 2014 in World

Japan edged closer to banning the possession of child pornography on Wednesday, the last major developed country to do so, but paedophilia portrayed in the country's popular manga comics will be exempt.

Under current laws, only the production and distribution of child pornography are banned, a situation that campaigners say is damaging to children.

On Wednesday the lower-house Committee on Judicial Affairs unanimously decided to expand the scope of the legislation.

A new bill, agreed upon by the ruling coalition and three opposition parties, will be submitted to the main chamber shortly, a parliament official said.

The legislation is expected to be quickly passed and sent to the upper house before the current parliament session ends on June 22.

A revised law would ban possession of photographs and videos depicting real children, but would exclude "manga" comics and "anime" video, following calls to protect freedom of expression.

"The primary reason (for the new rule) is to protect the rights of real children. So-called manga, anime and computer graphics are outside its scope," said an official at the legislative bureau of the house.

The move comes after the Tokyo Metropolitan Government last month said it was banning sales to children of a manga depicting incestuous relationships.

"Little Sisters Paradise! 2", which was published in April, was set to be classified as an "unhealthy publication" that must be kept out of children's reach.

The draft law that moved through committee on Wednesday says anyone who "possesses child pornography for the purpose of satisfying his/her sexual interest" could be punished with imprisonment of up to one year, or fines of up to one million yen ($9,800).

In order to encourage disposal of material, the penalties would be delayed for one year after the revised law comes into force.

Those who were sent child porn materials by others without asking would be exempt but keeping them and looking at them repeatedly could be penalised.

- Global source -

Campaigners against child porn have long urged Japan to outlaw the possession of sexually explicit images of children.

Japan is the only member of the G7 group of industrialised nations where the possession of child porn remains legal, while it is banned and subject to penalties in more than 70 countries.

"This will send a big message to the domestic public" against child porn, said Hiromasa Nakai, spokesman for the Japan committee of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"It fills a big hole in Japan's zero-tolerance policy against child porn. It will also allow Japanese police to more effectively cooperate with their counterparts in the international community," he added.

Japan is seen as a major global source of child pornography in photo and video form, after the United States and Russia.

Images that can be legally possessed in Japan show real children being abused, raped and molested, campaigners have said.

Police data has shown the number of victims hit a new record of 646 in 2013 only for those minors identified. This number, however, is believed to be just the tip of the iceberg.

The country's porn industry is huge and visitors note the ubiquity of sexual imagery, particularly the prevalence of pictures showing young-looking girls in school uniforms.

While it is unusual to see people openly reading paedophilic manga in public, mainstream comics read by commuters sometimes contain sexualised images that many Westerners find unpalatable.

Despite calls for manga imagery to be included in the new rules, there has been strong resistance from manga artists, free-speech advocates and publishers, who said it would impinge on freedom of expression and allow authorities to make arbitrary decisions about art.

Strong societal memories of strict state censorship in the run up to Japan's disastrous entry into World War II play into such debates, with dissenters warning of the danger of allowing the government to control the press.

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