JAPAN: ISPs halt services offering pics of young girls

Four major domestic Internet service providers have decided to stop providing fee-based services that allow customers to access Web sites featuring photographs of very young Japanese girls dressed in swimsuits and adopting sexually provocative poses, it has been learned.

Initially, the ISPs were reluctant to halt their services, insisting the photographs did not constitute child pornography under current laws. However, under mounting criticism that they were commercialising the sexualisation of children, one pulled its service Monday, with two others following suit Tuesday. The other has said it intends to withdraw its service in the near future.

Experts have lamented the nation's tardy approach in dealing with child pornography, with one saying photographs similar to those on the Web sites are considered illegal in some countries.

The firms that have decided to end the controversial services are @nifty, OCN, Biglobe and So-net, which are managed by subsidiaries of Fujitsu Ltd., NTT Communications, NEC Corp. and Sony Corp., respectively.

The photos are carried in special membership corners bearing names such as imoto (younger sister) and sho-chugakusei gentei (primary and middle school students only). For about 3,000 yen a month, users can access many different photographs taken by production companies. To attract potential customers, nonmembers can view a few photos of each girl for free.

Although the girls are not naked, their scanty clothing - often bikinis - and the poses they adopt are clearly sexual in nature. In one photo, a girl who is introduced as 10 years old is shown on a bed changing into a bikini, while in another, a "7-year-old" girl jumps over a vaulting horse wearing school swimwear.

The ISPs first introduced their portal services in 2003. According to the Japan Committee for UNICEF, which wants child pornography regulations tightened, DVDs and photo books featuring so-called junior idols first attracted attention in about 2000, since when their content had become increasingly risque.

Problem of wording

The specific wording of the Child Prostitution Law and the law banning the public display of pornographic images of children are thought to lie behind the current problem.

These laws define child pornography as "the stimulation of sexual desire via the depiction of a naked or partially clothed child."

A member of the committee said: "Under this definition, the images in question featuring children in swimsuits are not considered illegal."

Last October, the Metropolitan Police Department arrested three men over the production of DVDs featuring a girl in a bikini on suspicion of violating the law banning the public display of pornographic images of children.

However, although this particular charge was dropped, the men were later found guilty of violating the Child Welfare Law.

"Even if these photos aren't illegal per se, judging from the girls' clothing and unnatural poses it's clear these services are targeting pedophiles. These photos could affect the girls' future employment and marriage prospects," a committee member said. "It's unbelievable that supposedly socially responsible major ISPs offer such services."

According to Junko Miyamoto, corepresentative of the ECPAT/Stop Kodomo Baishun no Kai - a Japanese group affiliated with the international nongovernmental organisation End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes - Germany prohibits the distribution of photos and videos featuring children in a sexual context.

Further information

pdf: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20081001TDY02305.htm


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