Japan finally bans possessing images of child abuse - but Manga and anime depicting children remain legal

Magazine publishers and artists have fought against the new law, arguing it could infringe the free speech for artists and publishers

Japan has finally moved to outlaw the possession of images of child abuse following years of international pressure, but has avoided a ban on sexually explicit Manga comics and animation depicting young children.

Japan is the last OECD nation to criminalise the possession of such material after its Parliament voted on the new legislation on Wednesday. The production and distribution of the material was made illegal in 1999.

However, the new law does not make similar images depicted in Manga or animation illegal, following strong resistance from artists and magazine publishers who argued it could infringe on freedom of speech.

The law is due to take effect next month. Those found guilty under the new law will face imprisonment of up to a year or a fine of up to 1 million yen (£5,778), although such punishment will not be enforced in the first year.

Masatada Tsuchiya, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, supported the bill but said he was disappointed it did not include cartoons and computer graphics.

"I believed we should go a step further and take a look at manga and animation in which children are sexually abused," he said. "Of course freedom of expression is important. And I love manga. But some of the things out there are so depraved they aren't worth defending."

National data show a rise in child pornography crimes in Japan, with police uncovering 1,644 cases last year, around 10 times higher than a decade ago. Over half of the cases involved sharing or selling photos or videos over the Internet, police said.

Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said he hoped it would also help change a culture of tolerating objectification of children.

"We must fight against a tendency of looking at children as sexual objects, and allowing them to be taken advantage of, sexually and commercially," he said in parliamentary testimony on Tuesday, a day before the Upper House officially voted to adopt the bill. The Lower House passed it earlier in June.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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