Essay by Agnes Chan

Queen Silvia of Sweden gave on June 2 an inspiring speech at the Follow-up Seminar of the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Rio de Janeiro 2008 at the United Nations University in Tokyo.

 Queen Silvia was the patron for the first international forum against child sexual exploitation in Stockholm in 1996 and has since been the driving force in gaining global attention to these terrible crimes against children.

 I learned about this issue at a forum organized by the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo in 1998 attended by Queen Silvia. I went on to visit Thailand, Cambodia, Moldova and the Philippines and met with victims of child prostitution and pornography. Since then, I have joined other activists around the world to advocate laws and changes in society to protect children from sexual crimes.

 Japan implemented legislation against child prostitution and pornography in 1999. However, the law is insufficient because it does not criminalize simple possession and acquisition of child pornography.

 Extensive lobbying and over 1.14 million signatures of a petition did not result in an amendment to the law because of reluctance by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which cites freedom of expression and the possibility of indicting innocent people.

 However, National Congress of Parents and Teachers Associations of Japan, Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Japan Teachers Union and UNICEF all insist that restricting simple possession of child pornography is urgently needed to protect children.

 The seminar was important because it focused on “Child Sexual Abuse Images on the Internet.” It was a special meeting to raise awareness of the on-going struggle in Japan to outlaw possession and purchase of child pornography on the Internet and in shops.

 Queen Silvia pointed out that when Sweden legally prohibited simple possession of child pornography, the same argument was raised. However, facing the inhumane exploitation of children’s rights, Sweden amended its constitution to allow legal restrictions on possession of child pornography.

 Princess Takamado also offered a message on the urgency to implement legal measures against possession of child pornography in Japan. She pointed out that 15 years have passed since this problem was first raised in 1998; babies born back then are past puberty now, and yet we are still unable to protect them.

 We understand the reluctance among lawmakers who fear the law might infringe on freedom of expression, but by refusing to criminalize simple possession, the Japanese government is sending a message that child pornography is permissible as long as one does not sell or distribute it.

 By not punishing the purchase of child pornography, the current law encourages producers of child porn to keep on exploiting children. Since buying it is not illegal, people do not feel guilty collecting images of child porn. Lawmakers against amending the law are helping exploiters to continue their sexual abuse of children.

 Yahoo Japan Corp. and other Internet providers voluntarily started to block sites with child porn images last year. But as the representative of Yahoo Japan said at the forum, there are limits to blocking if it is not backed up by law. With digital innovations such as file sharing applications and the introduction of cloud computing, it is ever more difficult to stop the exploiters.

 Why adults rape and torture children sexually to satisfy their sexual urges is unimaginable. The result is unending torture for victims when these acts are recorded and shared on the Internet. As Mr. Georg Ehrmann from Germany’s child rights NGO, Deutche Kinderhilfe, pointed out at the forum, we need to identify the pedophiles and deal with them. We cannot turn away and ignore the problem.

 Among G-8 countries, only Japan and Russia still tolerate acquisition and possession of child porn. As Helena Karlen, secretary general of the Swedish branch of the global anti-child pornography/exploitation NGO ECPAT said at the forum, it provides criminals with a loophole and allows further child exploitation.

 As responsible members of the international society, lawmakers in Japan must face this problem without delay, or Japan will continue to be a country that treats child pornography leniently.

 Japanese people have expressed in surveys over and over again that they favor criminalization of simple possession of child porn. What we lack is leadership and determination by the ruling party. I hope that lawmakers against amending the current law will come to understand the damage they are doing to our children.

Asahi Weekly, July 15, 2012
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