The United Nations has rekindled the debate about sexualized images of children in Japanese manga art after its Special Envoy on Child Protection, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, called for the east Asian country to ban certain graphic content in anime.
"When it comes to particular, extreme child pornographic content, manga should be banned," de Boer-Buquicchio said, adding that it was important to "find the right balance."
"I accept that the freedom of expression argument should prevail when it comes to adult pornography," she said.
Japan criminalized the possession of child pornography last year. However, while those found with explicit photos or videos of children being abused can be fined 1 million yen ($10,000) and imprisoned for a year, cartoon manga images were not included in the legislation — with artists arguing that controls on cartoon production would be an attack on freedom of expression.
De Boer-Buquicchio's comments have been met with anger from some manga artists. Dan Kanemitsu, a manga translator, said the UN spokesperson had mixed "reality with fiction."
"There is no such thing as manga and anime child pornography," he told the Guardian. "Child pornography entails the involvement of children, and we must confront it for that reason. [De Boer-Buquicchio] meant sexualised depictions of childish looking characters in manga and anime. Many male and female artists in Japan draw characters in an art style that looks childish to western eyes. Therefore it is a rejection of an art style popular in Japan."
Kanemitsu also referred to this as an attack on artists' freedoms. "I think many people will see the logic of protecting free speech, as long as no actual people are harmed," he said.
Watch the VICE News documentary: Schoolgirls For Sale in Japan
[ooyalacontent_id="FwdzM4djpQbOnSF8_Zs0AcuMzWbDBRwu"player_id="YjMwNmI4YjU2MGM5ZWRjMzRmMjljMjc5" auto_play="1" skip_ads="0"]
Meanwhile, Shihoko Fujiwara, head of non-profit organisation Lighthouse, told AFP: "Materials of children under 18 that were clearly created for the purpose of fulfilling sexual excitement should be regulated as child pornography."
The manga industry is a huge money-maker for Japan, worth an estimated 420 billion yen ($5.5 billion) in 2009.
Japan has previously come under attack for its hesitance to confront issues around child abuse and the sexualization of young children.
The US State Department's 2013 human rights report labelled Japan an "international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography."
In 2009, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection ranked Japan fourth of the top countries that host child abuse websites, while 10 percent of Japanese men admitted to owning it in a 2002 government survey.
Follow VICE News on Twitter: @vicenews
Photo via Flickr