It was a shocking find: crudely made DVDs with images of grown men having sex with children as young as 12. Until this year, the men who bought those images faced little more than a slap on the wrist. But police in Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, decided for the first time during the summer to pursue criminal charges against three male customers in a country widely seen as much too lenient on child pornography.
The police campaign is largely the work of Kyoto's prefectural Governor, Keiji Yamada. During his fight for office two years ago, Mr Yamada pledged to roll out an ordinance banning the buying and possession of child porn – still legal under Japanese law, unless there is proven intent to sell or distribute. Even if the makers are arrested, the images circulate for years on the internet and in secondary markets.
Child porn-related crimes have grown fivefold in Japan through the last decade, according to the country's National Police Agency. At least 600 children a year fall victim to paedophile directors and photographers. "The internet is probably the biggest factor," said Akira Koga, spokesman for the Kyoto Police. "It's very difficult to monitor and control." A new police cyber patrol uncovered the trail back to the three men from the DVD producer in Tokyo.
Japan has long been considered a hub for the production and possession of paedophile images. It is the only OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) nation that has not banned possession of child porn, partly to protect its manga and anime industries, which churn out thousands of titles every year that sail close to the legal wind. A government survey in 2002 found that 10 per cent of Japanese men admitted to owning child porn at some stage.
Bookstores and convenience stores across the country stock magazines carrying semi-naked pictures of pubescent and pre-pubescent children. Many underage girls have built careers as so-called "junior idols", posing in suggestive poses. In the electronics district of Akihabara, Tokyo's capital of geeky cool, tourists gawk at cartoon images of children in various stages of sexual distress, all perfectly legal. One of the nation's most popular pop groups, AKB48, features a revolving cast of members, some as young as 13, persuaded to pout in adult lingerie for videos and magazine covers.
The UK-based Internet Watch Foundation traced nearly 16,250 websites depicting child abuse back to Japan in 2006, enough to put it third on a global watch list. In 2009, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection placed Japan fourth among the top five countries hosting websites with child abuse images, according to ECPAT International, an NGO that fights to end the commercial exploitation of children.
Full Story: Japan's child porn addiction
Source: The Independent