Child pornography and prostitution are two of the most disturbing issues in the world today. Millions of children, in virtually every country in the world, become victims of sexual exploitation. Access to child pornography and prostitution in Southeast Asia has increased during the 1990’s due to the lack of government legislation and enforcement protecting children. Japan is the world’s global leader of child pornography on the Internet, whereas Thailand is famous for its sex tourism industry. Most if the children who fall victims to this horrible industry are forced by their parents to help pay off the family debt.
Child pornography is the consequence of the exploitation or sexual abuse against a child. It can be defined as any means of depicting or promoting sexual abuse of a child, centered on a sexual act or the genital organs of children. It exists in three main forms, visual, audio and text. It is put to use by pedophiles as a tool to lower a child’s inhibitions and by showing other children in pornographic poses, entice that child into compromising situations. These children range from a few months old to 18 years of age. It is these photographs, videotapes, films and magazines of children in sexual poses and acts that make up the multimillion dollar global world of child pornography. (Missing Children, 1997).
Although child prostitution has been around for thousands of years, it has only achieved widespread recognition in the last few decades. One reason for it’s increasing popularity, especially overseas, is the naïve belief that sex with a juvenile prostitute is safer than sex with an adult prostitute. On the contrary, children are more prone to sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and HIV/AIDS, than adults. These children are victims of the most overlooked form of child abuse; they are vulnerable and crave attention, affection and love. (Missing Children, 1997).
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand. Nevertheless, like all crime, it exists. Sexual intercourse with a minor is statutory rape and is punishable by imprisonment. In 1996, Thai laws were strengthened by new legislation, which significantly increased the penalties for those caught engaging in sex with a minor. The law targets customers, procurers, pimps, and owners and operators of brothels as well as parents who sell their children. The Thai law also provides for prison terms of up to ten years and heavy fines for anyone convicted of being involved in international commercial sex trade. The new legislation eased restrictions on the police, making it easier for them to enter and search suspected brothels and make arrests. The Royal Thai Government works closely with government and law enforcement agencies in other countries and with international organizations to attack the problem from the outside. Part of these efforts is aimed at preventing known sex offenders and publishers of pornography from entering Thailand. The Government monitors the activities of tour agents abroad who promote "sex tours", in an attempt to prevent their customers from entering the country. Those who engage in sexual activity with minors are subject to arrest and imprisonment. The Thai police increased surveillance of suspected child molesters and have made numerous arrests resulting in convictions and long-term prison sentences. Information is now given to all tourists visiting Thailand advising them of the law and the penalties for violating it. The Royal Thai Government is committed to ending the problem of child prostitution. (Royal Thai Embassy, 1997).
Poverty is the most important factor contributing to the growth of child prostitution. The International Labour Organization says that since the Asian financial crisis 2 years ago, children have increasingly become involved in dangerous and illegal activities such as prostitution and drug trafficking. (BBC News, 1999). UNICEF estimates that approximately 250,000 children are bought and sold for sex in Thailand alone. (BBC News, 1997). Many of these children do not see themselves as victims. Ten years ago parents forced most child prostitutes into it, now many volunteer. The victims are school children who want the money so they can live what they see as a luxurious lifestyle. (CNN, 1999)
Japan is the world’s global-leader of child pornography on the Internet. Hundreds of pornographic images of children flood Internet sites with addresses ending in “jp”, meaning they originate in Japan. According to estimates from Interpol, 80 percent of the child pornography on the Internet originates from Japan (see figure #1), that is approximately 1,200 Websites. In his interview with TIME Magazine, Mayumi Moriyama, member of the Lower House of parliament and a former education minister, stated; “It’s an embarrassment, […] anyone who wants to buy, sell or produce child pornography comes to Japan”. (CNN/TIME Magazine, 1999). Because Japan has no law on child pornography, officers must apply the general code on pornography, which is unclear, but defined as including material showing sexual organs. It is for this reason that most child pornography sites use images that show the abuse or torture of children without directly showing sexual organs. In some cases, the picture is slightly “fuzzy”; therefore, it cannot be legally called obscene. This makes it extremely difficult for police officers to make arrests and prosecute. (ABC News, 1998).
The common explanation for Japan’s tolerance of child pornography is that the country is run by old men with little sensitivity towards women and children. The old men do not understand cyberspace, therefore they do not understand how easy it is for pornographic images of Japanese children to be sent all over the world. Many Japanese high school girls are willing to sell themselves; the problem is that they have not been properly educated to make an informed decision. They are attracted to the money; the “going rate” for sex with a 16-year-old girl was $250 two years ago. Today men want younger girls; a 12-year-old costs more than $400. Two reasons for the theory of the obsession with pedophilia is that Japanese men feel threatened by adult women, the other is the belief that sex with very young children is safer. Japan has a polite term for the teen-sex peddlers: “enjo kosai” which translates as “supportive relationship”, the term was invented to make prostitution sound OK. Because of the reach of the Internet, Japan has a responsibility to the world to crack down. (CNN/TIME Magazine, 1999).
Before May 1999, there were no laws in Japan protecting children. The criminal law only prohibited sex with minors, a minor being someone under the age of 12. The only sexual act specifically outlawed was sexual intercourse, and it was required that a victim must file a criminal complaint before charges could be made. However, on May 26, 1999, the Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and for Protecting Children was enacted in Japan. It prescribes punishment for those who are involved in child prostitution, child pornography and/or engage in the trafficking of children. It also has penalties for Japanese citizens involved in child prostitution abroad. The law states that those who display child pornography on the Internet face up to 3 years imprisonment. Likewise, those who pay for sex with a child can be fined up to one million yen ($8, 200) or a prison sentence up to 3 years. The previous requirement that a complaint must be made by the victim to press charges has been banished. Although the law prohibits the production, distribution and sale of child pornography, to respect freedom of expression, it does not cover explicit drawings in comics. (United Nations, 2000). Because of its foresight and courage in addressing the issue of child sexual exploitation as well as its contribution to the passing of the anti-child prostitution and pornography law, Japan was awarded the 1999 Kato Shidzue Award (ECPAT, 1999).
Parents forced many of the children who are involved in prostitution and pornography, often to pay off the family’s debt. Out of 16,482 reported cases involving infringement of human rights in Japan in 1998, those involving abuse, exploitation, coercion and oppression of children by their parents amounted to over 1,000. The abusers were, 27% fathers, 9.1% stepfathers, 55% mothers and 3.8% stepmothers (see figure #2). (United Nations, 2000). In March 1999, a Japanese mother was arrested for letting men have sex with her 15-year-old daughter for $85 a session. Another mother was sentenced to four years probation in December 1998, for taking $850 from an Osaka hospital employee to photograph her 10-year-old daughter nude. (CNN/TIME Magazine, 1999). Likewise, in Thailand a mother who was heavily in debt forced her 9-year-old daughter to prostitute for a year. However, some children choose to leave home because of parental abuse and end up prostituting. For example an eleven year old boy in Bangkok ran away from an abusive home at age 9, a man offered him a place to stay, but there was a catch. The 9-year-old boy prostituted for nearly a year. (CNN.com, 1999). These are just a few examples of Asian children entering the world of prostitution due to family debt or physical abuse by a parent. Although numerous government and non-government agencies, such as ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) are trying to help these children, the sale of children in both Japan and Thailand is a continuing problem. Before the laws passed in Japan in 1999 and in Thailand in 1996, it was nearly impossible to help these children at all. Because this is not only an issue in Asia but in every country in the world, everyone needs to help save these innocent children and put a stop to child prostitution and pornography. Because of poverty, family debts and the vulnerability of children, many children in Japan and Thailand are forced into child prostitution and pornography. Although many of the children are forced into it by their parents, a great deal to it voluntarily because they are not properly educated to make a better decision. During the 1990’s access to child pornography and prostitution had increased in Southeast Asia, due to the lack of laws and legal enforcement protecting children. Since the new law passed in Japan and the strengthening of Thailand’s laws more pedophiles have been apprehended and convicted and more children have been taken care of and are off the streets.
“World: Asia-Pacific Clampdown on Child Sex”. BBC News. 18 May 1999.
“Prostitution touches lives of Thailand’s children”. CNN.com. 19 November 1999.
Larimer, Tim. “Japan’s Shame”. CNN.com/Time Magazine. 19 April 1999.
United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the
Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Ms Ofelia Calcetas-Santos.
“ECPAT/STOP Japan wins award.” ECPAT Newsletter [Bangkok] August 1999: 3.
“Child Prostitution-Background”. Missing Children, Exploited Child Unit. 1997.
“Child Pornography-Background”. Missing Children, Exploited Child Unit. 1997.
Kageyama, Yuri. “Japan Under Fire Over Net Porn”. ABCNEWS. 24 November 1998.
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