Japan hit over child porn

UNICEF head says lack of curbs online spreads menace abroad

by Mariko Kato

The head of UNICEF on Tuesday condemned Japan’s laws on child pornography, saying the country is falling behind global standards and is guilty of spreading illegal material abroad.

“Japan and Russia are the only two G8 countries that do not ban civil possession of child pornography,” Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF, the U.N. body that campaigns for children’s rights, said at a news conference at the group’s Tokyo branch.

“Other countries are worried about this, because as the Internet is global, if you can have access here, it gives access in other countries where it’s banned,” she said. “So there is a strong desire to protect children not just in Japan but to limit the access to people all over the world.”

Veneman’s criticism comes at a time when Japan is facing international pressure over its lack of laws prohibiting the individual possession of child porn images as well as regulations restricting pornographic video games.

Debate in the Diet on revising legislation has stalled due to arguments over whether to ban the personal possession of child porn.

Veneman insisted the issue should be beyond partisan politics and be treated as a Diet priority, and she dismissed current domestic debate that revising the law could impede freedom of expression.

“Free speech comes with responsibility and limits when it comes to harming others, particularly children,” she said. “If the police overextend their power, then it’s up to the press to expose them.”

Veneman was visiting Japan to announce the publication of the first collective global data regarding issues of child abuse and exploitation.

The report, released in Japan on Tuesday, gives detailed figures on unregistered children at birth, child marriages and female genital mutilation.

“Fifty million children are not registered at birth. That’s half of the population in Japan,” Agnes Chan, Hong Kong-born singer and goodwill ambassador to the Japan committee, told the news conference.

Those children have no record of existence or nationality, and nearly half are in South Asia, according to the report.

Chan also pointed out that in Cambodia, babies are sold for adoption or organ transplants for ¥5,000, while young teens are bought for labor or marriage for less than ¥10,000.

The report says that more than 70 million girls and women have undergone genital mutilation or cutting in 28 African countries and Yemen as part of a belief that it ensures chastity and honor.

UNICEF estimates that 150 million people aged between 5 and 14 worldwide are engaged in child labor, while 64 million women in their early to mid-20s have reported they were married before age 18. Half live in South Asia.

“This is the first time ever that we published a report on the protection of children,” said Veneman, explaining that data are hard to collect as much of the activity takes place illegally and in secret.