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Organizations fighting child pornography have renewed their fight for stronger measures, taking aim with a petition delivered recently to welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki that argues against entrenched tolerance for sexual abuse of minors. The renewed call for action followed an important revision of the law on child prostitution and porn that took effect in July, following revisions that took effect in July 2014. Despite making possession of child pornography illegal, those revisions did little, the groups argued, to crack down on the larger problem.

Their concerns over the production and ownership of obscene materials involving male and female children under the age of 18 should be taken into greater consideration by the government and police. The stepped-up law does include larger fines and stronger penalties for those convicted of being involved in child pornography. However, the groups argue that the government and police have not taken sufficient measures to ensure the law is enforced.

Their criticisms need to be incorporated into current policy. However, the issue is complicated by producers of child pornography adept at working in gray zones. Photo albums, DVDs and online video streaming that include nudity of preteen children are often at the borderline of what could be construed as artistically nonsexual. That difficulty in defining exactly what is or is not pornographic and abusive, however, should force clearer guidelines with stricter and more exacting legal rulings.

The nonprofit organizations that delivered the petition to the welfare minister listed specific practices they define as sexual abuse against children. But the new legislation does not sufficiently address many forms of such abuse, such as children under the age of 15 performing acrobatics in revealing costumes to paying customers or photo sessions with preteen children who are nude or nearly nude. Such activities continue to be a profitable form of child abuse.

When children are forced to participate in acts such as massaging customers, lying alongside them and taking walks together for the purpose of sexual arousal, those acts constitute a form of prostitution. Such commercial exploitation needs to be carefully delineated and included in all legislation, as well as made part of enforcement.

Complicating the issue further is that many parents force their children into such acts for profit. The issue connects to other laws about parental custody and what rights parents have over their children’s welfare. Japanese law has long respected parental control over children.

The petition from the NPOs and other anti-child abuse groups is right in demanding further revisions and clarifications to the lenient and vaguely worded law about child pornography and prostitution. Much more remains to be done.

The right to create artistic expression that involves nudity should not be restricted, and freedom of speech needs to be maintained. However, explicitly commercial activity that contributes to exploitation, abuse and harm to children must be defined in clear legal terms and curbed.

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