Asia Pacific

Japan passes law banning possession of child pornography

(CNN) — Japan has finally made the possession of child pornography a punishable offense.

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.

The bill was a long time coming for activists who argued that Japan's relatively lax laws put children at risk by banning the production and distribution of child pornography, but not people found with it in their possession.

"It's been 10 years and it's finally changed. I'm so pleased that Japan finally moved one step toward the international standard," said Shihoko Fujiwara, from Lighthouse, a nonprofit group that helps exploited children.

"Under the existing circumstances, the suffering and damage has become more critical. I really hope that the law rescues suffering child victims, as well as the victims damaged in the past by stopping the circulation of child porn. This is the epoch-making event for Japan," she said.

Notable exclusions

The bill notably excludes the possession of explicit anime or manga, a point of contention for campaigners who say that cartoons depicting child sexual abuse should also be banned.

Representatives of those industries say that while they support the ban on real child pornography, any move to censor their products would be an unjustified restriction of freedom of expression.

Daisuke Okeda, a lawyer and inspector for the Japan Animation Creators Association, said it was "natural that animation is exempted."

"The goal of the law itself is to protect children from crime," he said. "Banning such expression in animation under this law would not satisfy the goal of the law."

Hiroshi Chiba, the manager of Chiba Tetsuya Production, one of the country's best known manga production houses, said that more could be done in terms of age restrictions on graphic content featuring children and to distinguish it more clearly from other comics. And he admitted that some products of the industry leave him and his colleagues "disgusted."

"But rich, deep culture is born from something that might not be accepted by all," Chiba said. "We need to allow the gray zone to exist as a necessary evil."

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.

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