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The National Police Agency said it handled 676 child pornography cases in 2008 in Japan. That is 109 more cases than in 2007 and much more than the mere 25 cases prosecuted in 1999, when Japan’s status as a worldwide distribution point for child pornography came to light. Further arrests continued this year, with millions of images and videos confiscated from computers and servers. As positive as these steps are, more action is urgently needed.

While some ambiguities about the age of consent and the definition of sexualized content remain, current Japanese law clearly makes it illegal to sell and distribute child pornography. Yet, one of the main reasons for the persistence of child pornography is profit.

One man arrested in Fukuoka in February raked in an estimated ¥200 million in just two years of operation. The combination of faster, more secretive technology amid worsening economic conditions will only increase profitability.

The profits from child pornography, though, can be greatly reduced. The police agency needs to work closely with credit card companies to track where and when money is exchanged for child pornography. This payment information helps find ways into the secretive methods for disseminating and downloading pornography. A case in the United States last year also required a convicted child pornographer, in addition to 78 months in prison, to pay restitution to a woman whose image as a child the man had bought and sold.

Japanese authorities can also focus on Internet service providers (ISP). Last year, the Internet Hotline Center Japan, which monitors sites under the control of the Internet Association of Japan, found more than 500 sites with child pornography operating in Japan. Many, but not all, agreed to remove child pornography. ISPs should block and filter the most damaging content and work with the police and nongovernmental organizations that monitor the problem.

Of course, the individual right to privacy in viewing images that are not criminal in nature needs to be upheld. Privacy, though, does not extend to clear-cut crimes, including those inevitably connected to child pornography, human trafficking, child prostitution, selling of children and sexual abuse.

In last year’s Japanese cases, the majority of victims were middle and primary school students. In poorer countries, the victims are increasingly even younger. Child pornography is a serious form of abuse whose destructive effects extend far beyond the cruel fantasies — and grim realities — on computer screens.

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