TOKYO - JAPAN'S ruling party will review laws on child pornography, an official said on Monday, following calls to close a loophole allowing individual possession.
The United States and other developed countries have accused Japan of laxity in allowing child pornography, amid statistics showing that the number of victimised youngsters has risen to a record high.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has set up a panel to review the nation's 1999 child porn law, a party official said. It is expected to hold its first meeting in the coming weeks.
The law bans production and sale of sexually arousing photos, videos and other materials involving children aged below 18 and their possession for commercial purposes or other distribution.
But the law does not cover individual possession.
'Regarding individual possession, many lawmakers as well as the public back its ban,' said an official in the office of former justice minister Mayumi Moriyama, who will head the panel.
A weekend report in the Mainichi Shimbun daily said the ruling party planned to ban possession of child porn but exempt 'anime' cartoons and comic books for the sake of 'freedom of expression'.
Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama has voiced readiness to tighten the law.
'There is a reprehensible market,' he told a parliamentary committee on Feb 4. 'It is true that the absence of penalty for individual possession is serving as a loophole.'
He told reporters the following day that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda had also asked him to 'take firm measures against child porn'.
'Like in the case of narcotics, approval of possession could lead to distribution over the Internet,' Mr Hatoyama said.
According to a national police survey, 304 children aged under 18 fell victim to pornography in 2007, up 20.2 per cent from a year earlier and a record high since police started compiling the data in 1999.
A government survey of 1,767 adults last year found that some 70 per cent were in favour of banning possession of child porn and 86 per cent believe cartoons and drawn illustrations should be subject to the law.